The Congress managed to maintain its ambiguity, though with a pronounced tilt in favour of the minority community’s position.
In recent weeks, there has been a tectonic shift in the Ayodhya Ram temple narrative. From the earlier, ‘Whether the temple will be constructed on the disputed site’, it is now, ‘How soon will the temple construction begin’. And, even that ‘soon’ is not being quantified in terms of years but months. The reason for the change is primarily two-fold. The first is that the Supreme Court begins day-to-day hearing on the title suit of the disputed land and is expected to wind up the process in a couple of months, thus raising the prospects of an early verdict. The second is the fresh push given by organisations such as the RSS — supportive of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh —to bring an Ordinance for the construction of the temple, in case there is no other way out to honour the sentiments of the majority Hindu community in the country.
Whatever the scenario may be, the Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP, will seek to reap gains. The question is: How will the other major national party, the Congress, respond?
At his speech on the occasion of Dussehra, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke about the possibility. Various BJP leaders too have been hinting at the idea, though they have been careful not to undermine the status of the judiciary, saying that they would prefer to wait for the judgement before taking the next step. Nonetheless, it is getting increasingly clear that, if the apex court’s order does not pave the way for the construction of the Ram temple, the ruling dispensation could explore other legal and constitutional options, such as bringing an Ordinance.
This is, of course, dependent on two factors. One, the court pronounces its order before the next general election. It is possible that, while it may conclude the hearings in the next couple of months, the Bench can reserve its verdict — and deliver it after the Lok Sabha poll. The second factor which comes into play in such a situation is the winner of the electoral contest. If the Modi regime returns with a public mandate, then it might take the Ordinance route in case the court order goes against the pro-temple parties. However, in the eventuality of an Opposition victory, it’s highly unlikely that a non-BJP Government will adopt that step; instead, it will take refuge in the court judgement and conduct itself accordingly. There is a third, interesting, option. It is that the court verdict goes in favour of the pro-temple lobby and the opposition comes to power at the Centre. Will the new allegedly ‘secular’ rulers allow the construction of the temple, or will they also bring in an Ordinance — only now, to abort the possibility, under pressure from Muslim groups that are opposed to the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site?
Whatever the scenario may be, the Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP, will seek to reap gains. The question is: How will the other major national party, the Congress, respond? Will, it back the building of the temple, in case the court verdict is favourable to the pro-temple parties to the dispute, or will it take an ambiguous position to appease that section of the minority community which is opposed to the temple construction? Let’s not forget that the Congress regime of Rajiv Gandhi, despite enjoying an overwhelming majority in Parliament, had neutralised a Supreme Court order in the Shah Bano case by enacting a legislation.
The only difference is that the BJP, unlike 30 years ago, is in the driver’s seat and driving the narrative.
The dilemma for the Congress has to do with its consistent ambivalence on the matter. One needs to go back to recent history to understand it. In 1949, after an idol of Lord Ram was discovered right inside the disputed structure — which was then called the Babri mosque — the district administration had closed down the premise, fearing trouble. The Congress seemed to have no problem with the decision. Almost four decades later, on February 1, 1986, a local court ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to unlock the gates and allow Hindus to offer prayers. The Congress was in power in the State and at the Centre, and yet it did not challenge the decision. Leaders from the minority community — and these leaders also came from the political system — who were left fuming, had expected the Congress regimes to dispute the directive.
But not only did the party’s high command remain silent, but it also remained benevolent towards the Shilanyas (foundation-stone laying ceremony for the temple) conducted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) soon after. Authors Walter K Andersen and Shridhar D Damle write in their recently released book, The RSS: A View to the Inside, that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had worked “quietly with the head of the RSS to facilitate a VHP-organised function in 1989…”, featuring the Shilanyas. The authors go on to argue that Rajiv Gandhi had struck a deal with the RSS through which the latter would support the Congress in lieu of the party backing the Ramjanmabhoomi demand. The deal fell apart, according to the book, after the Congress developed cold feet following a backlash from the minority community’s leaders, and refused to support the demand for the construction of the Ram temple.
In the three decades that have passed since then, the Congress managed to maintain its ambiguity, though with a pronounced tilt in favour of the minority community’s position. Today, it is yet again faced with a similar choice — a choice that it would rather not have confronted. The only difference is that the BJP, unlike 30 years ago, is in the driver’s seat and driving the narrative.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.