Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Ayodhya title suit is not its priority and even the hearing date will be decided next January, the saffron parties are getting agitated about the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. “We have other priorities,” a bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi had said last week.
Building the Ram temple in Ayodhya has long been a promise of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS is of the view that temple must be constructed at the birthplace of Lord Ram and the site should be given to Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas, but this had not been possible due to legal complications so far.
The pressure has grown from the Sangh affiliates after the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in his Vijayadasami address demanded, “The government should bring ordinance and build Ayodhya Ram Mandir. No more politics over it now. It’s not a controversy of religions.” Added to that the Allahabad Kumbh Mela from January 15 to March 4 will create the right atmosphere for the ‘Build Ram Mandir’ chorus.
The question is whether the government should take the ordinance route for construction of mandir when the Apex court is reviewing it. There are some who feel that faith should not overrule the law. The Sabarimala controversy has added to this view. On the other hand, the saffron brigade feels that the legal review has gone on too long and it must be brought to a closure soon.
For bringing a law does the government have a majority in the Upper House? Can this be pushed through in a joint sitting of Parliament? The Modi government is in a catch-22 situation, as the matter is sub judice. Except Shiv Sena, almost all other allies believe that this move will create an atmosphere of distrust in the minority community just ahead of the crucial assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly, on January 7, 1993, a month after the Babri Masjid was demolished, the P V Narasimha Rao government acquired 66.7 acres of land in Ayodhya, including 2.77 acres on which the demolished structure had stood through an ordinance, which was subsequently replaced by the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act, 1993. When it was challenged, the Apex Court upheld its constitutionality in 1994. The dispute as per the court’s interpretation is the title issue.
The BJP’s 2014 manifesto said, “BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.” The party chief Amit Shah had declared recently that “the party is firm on the Ram temple issue…efforts will be made to ensure that Ram temple is constructed under the Constitutional provisions”. Within the party, there is an overpowering opinion that the decision should be expedited. The VHP has urged the government to bring legislation in the ensuing winter session of Parliament. The temple movement gathered further momentum on Sunday with 3,000 seers, including Baba Ramdev, passing a resolution asking the government to either bring an Ordinance or enact a law for the construction of the temple in Ayodhya. Senior BJP leaders like UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Uma Bharti have called for amendment to the constitution for the construction of Ram temple.
The Opposition, of course, would not like to give any electoral advantage to the BJP as they feel that the BJP has milked the Ram issue all through. According to Congress leader, P Chidambaram: “The Congress’s stated position is that the matter is before the Supreme Court and everyone should wait until the Supreme Court decides… We should not jump the gun,” The Left parties and others are waiting for the government’s move. A section of the BJP feels the Ordinance route could force the Congress to take a stand on the temple when it is projecting a soft Hindutva line. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi has challenged the BJP to bring in an ordinance.
Ultimately, it is a political call though the party argues that it is a question of faith. The question is, has Ram given electoral benefits to the BJP? Though the party benefitted initially in the early 90s, but it was not for long. It formed the government in 1993 for a brief period but since 1996, ceased to be the single largest party in the state until 2017. Even in Ayodhya, though the BJP candidate always did well, the margin had been steadily declining. But no doubt Ram temple will divert attention from other pressing issues such as healthcare, jobs, education, sanitation, hunger index etc.
While there is much debate in the media and elsewhere, there is simply no movement in the government circles. Rightly, the government is cautious on taking any hasty measure that might damage the government’s image internationally. Even a slight move can be only after the outcome of the assembly poll in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on December 11. Ultimately, it is a political call.