PM polishes temple plank

WAIT FOR JUSTICE: An elderly protester on Parliament Street in New Delhi demands justice 25 years after the Babri Masjid was demolished. Picture by Prem Singh

Junagadh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lobbed Kapil Sibal's aborted plea in the Ayodhya case into the Gujarat poll arena at a time several voters appeared to be giving primacy to bread-and-butter issues over emotive planks.

"Yesterday, Sibal advocated the cause of the Muslim community. He has the right to do it and we do not have any problem with it. You can present your argument quoting all facts and laws to save Babri Masjid.

"But you dare say that the case should not be heard till 2019 elections. You want to stop the hearing of the Ram temple (issue) in the name of elections," Modi told an election rally at Dhandhuka in Ahmedabad.

Sibal had not mentioned the general election in the Supreme Court on Tuesday but his cut-off of July 2019 was seen as a clear reference to the national polls.

Another element was added to the controversy with the Sunni Wakf Board saying it wanted a prompt verdict and it did not authorise Sibal to seek a postponement of the hearings. The court had declined Sibal's plea and fixed February 8 for the next hearing.

Modi congratulated the Wakf Board for saying that Sibal's argument in the court was wrong.

Sibal claimed that he did not represent the Sunni board in the case that has several petitioners. Some Muslim groups do feel the time is not right for the final hearing to be taken up. 

On Wednesday, other BJP leaders too lashed out at the Congress on the Ayodhya issue amid feedback from the ground that the ruling party was battling voter anger.

Efforts to polarise the December 9 and 14 elections have not resonated among voters so far. Take, for instance, the response of Brajesh Patel, a Patidar youth who had played a leading role in getting a Ram temple built in his village, Agarai, in Junagadh district.

"This election is not about a Ram temple. I too want a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya but, in this election, we farmers are fighting for proper price for our produce. This election we are agitated over the killing of 14 Patidar youths by Gujarat police (during protests for reservation)," Brajesh said, asked about the court case.

In the past, the Patidars have been known to be aggressive on Hindutva-related issues but this time they seem firm on voting against the BJP.

Last week, a BJP leader had tried to indirectly trigger a controversy over Rahul's religion after he visited Gujarat's Somnath temple, following reports that his name was written in a register meant for non-Hindus.

It didn't find traction with the electorate.

Modi had also compared Rahul's approaching elevation as Congress president to "Aurangzeb raj".

Other caste groups in the state also don't seem to have been swayed much by polarising issues. "Here we will vote for the Congress because the candidate is from our caste and he is a good leader too," said Manoj Ahir, a voter in Manavadar constituency in Junagadh.

Caste and the image of the candidate seem to be playing a big role in deciding voter choices among backward caste groups.

The BJP has been tactically trying to evade a contest on the performance of its government. Rather, apart from foregrounding polarising topics and harping on Gujarati pride, it has been trying to generate fear that the Congress's return would lead to unrest in the state.

That fear, a throwback to the eighties when the state saw caste and communal flare-ups, seemed to be working among some business people.

Ashok Dedania, who is in the printing business, echoed that apprehension. "The business community is unhappy with the BJP over demonetisation and the GST but we have no love for the Congress," the Rajkot resident said. "The return of the Congress could vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in the state."


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