Analysis: Leverage, gains and voter sentiment in temple run

Analysis: Leverage, gains and voter sentiment in temple run

In terms of theatrics and catering to Hindu sensibilities, the BJP hasn’t missed a trick, ensuring that across Bharat/India, viewers will be moved to devotional ecstasy, euphoria, tears and triumphalism

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Wednesday, January 17, 2024, 10:41 PM IST
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Ayodhya Temple | X

The Congress high command’s decision to stay away from the Ayodhya event has triggered a FOMO sentiment among the rank-and-file. Officially, the party stands excluded from what promises to be a dazzling, operatic, emotionally-charged, feelgood spectacle. In terms of theatrics and catering to Hindu sensibilities, the BJP hasn’t missed a trick, ensuring that across Bharat/India, viewers will be moved to devotional ecstasy, euphoria, tears and triumphalism.

Where does that leave the Congress and its allies? They have done their best to knock the glitter off the event, but failed. Sharad Pawar’s reminder that the shilanyas of the Temple took place during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, RJD leader Tej Pratap Yadav’s mockery, the Congress claim that the event is more political than religious and sundry criticisms by various Opposition leaders - none of these have diminished public excitement.

An enterprising group of Congressmen, however, has shown how to garner a bit of leverage. Soon after Congress chief Malliakarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi declined the invitation to attend the inauguration, Haryana MP Deepender Hooda, Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Rai, general secretary Avinash Pande, spokesperson Supriya Shrinate and others made a well-publicised visit to Ayodhya on Makar Sankranti. They paid obeisance to Ram Lalla, performed pujas and took a dip in the Saryu river, under the lens of the cameras.

Wisely, Hooda and the others steered clear of politics, merely saying that as devotees of Lord Ram, they had come to offer prayers on an auspicious day. An obviously perturbed BJP dubbed the visit as political, but the Congressmen did not rise to the bait. When Pande was asked to comment on Congress workers who had angered devotees by waving the party flag in front of the Temple entrance ahead of his visit, he roundly condemned the ‘mindless people’ who had ‘created disturbance’ with their flag-waving.

In so doing, the Congressmen made a positive impression. Accompanying Hooda was Faridabad MLA Neeraj Sharma, an exponent of Ramkatha (a recital of stories from the Ramayan). Just returned from the US, where he had held several Ramkathas for the benefit of NRIs and PIOs enthusiastic about the inauguration of the Ram Temple, he guided the group through the rituals. Back in 1989, then a young Congress worker, Sharma had held a Sundarkand to mark the shilanyas of the Ram Temple. He exemplifies the committed Congress worker who is happy to wear his religious identity on his sleeve.

Ayodhya has once again brought into focus the Congress’ confused and erratic approach to what is dubbed as ‘soft hindutva’. On the one hand, Rahul Gandhi undertakes a much-hyped ‘temple run’ ahead of the 2017 Gujarat elections, followed up by a tour of ‘mutts’ in Karnataka, and on the other, declares that religion is a private matter.

Unlike the Congress high command, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Pratap Yadav has not hesitated to execute a U-turn on the Temple issue. He has studiously ignored the BJP’s barbs about his father and predecessor Mulayam Singh Yadav’s opposition to the Ram Temple (the late SP founder had ordered the police to open fire on kar sevaks in 1990). Meanwhile, a huge hoarding of Yadav welcoming ‘Prabhu Sri Ram’ to Ayodhya has been put up in Lucknow.

Yadav also made it a point to keep politics out of his decision not to attend the event. He thanked the organisers for their kind invitation, extended his best wishes and said he would definitely visit the Temple for a darshan of Ram Lalla, but would like to do so en famille — an unexceptionable excuse.

The astute approach adopted by Yadav and Hooda contrasts with that of the Congress leadership. By literally vacating the field — and worse, annoying the devout by dubbing the consecration event as political — the Gandhis and Kharge have not done the party any favours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently on a preparatory fast and period of abstinence, may well emerge larger than ever in his avatar of humble devotee. The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor and Kedarnath Temple projects have already rendered him Hindu Hriday Samrat; the Ram Mandir will make him unassailable, at least in Uttar Pradesh.

The media has done its bit, faithfully reporting on the preparations and the beauty of the precincts. A local paper went so far as to describe the interior of the Temple as ‘like Devalok’ (the abode of the Gods). The controversies around the event, with the Shankaracharyas declining to attend (although two of the four have extended their support), have been covered in minute detail and have served to make it a hot topic of discussion for the man-on-the-street.

Good-natured debates range, from how the organisers should have waited until the Temple was complete and the appropriate rituals laid down in the scriptures, to the identity of the designated yajman in the consecration of the idol, Anil Mishra. For the BJP, the concomitant electoral benefits of the Temple frenzy could be substantial. Specially with the Congress failing to factor in voter sentiments once again.

Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author

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