He needs to reassert a commitment to the BJP’s core beliefs. This will greatly encourage the Hindu masses.
Whenever, it would seem, the Bharatiya Janata Party grows uncomfortable with its Hindutva roots while in power, it automatically provokes the fates, goes into decline electorally and is decisively turfed out at the next general elections. While the precedents don’t go very deep as the BJP only ruled at the Centre once before, the post mortem of the A.B. Vajpayee government’s ouster shows up this factor as an important one. This is probably because without Hindutva it has no real USP to distinguish it from the Congress in public perception. Nuanced differences in governance and approach look like so many blurred, self-serving and expedient lines. And the BJP is seen as a bad copy of the original. The rank and file BJP and RSS/Sangh Parivar worker, bred on ideology, is both demoralised and demotivated.
The Vajpayee administration lasted a full term with an unwieldy coalition, but distanced itself from the RSS and turned its back on Hindutva issues including the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Ayodhya temple movement, the Uniform Code Bill, and other such matters. It cited the constraints of “coalition dharma”, but just how convincing is this? Vajpayee could, after all, be bold to get what he wanted. He enjoyed great personal popularity cutting across party lines, he detonated the bomb just 13 days into office for the second time, he initiated visionary and far reaching infrastructure development and presided over a worthwhile economic performance.
Whatever applied to Atal Bihari Vajpayee can be at least doubled in the case of Narendra Damodardas Modi. Here is a person who was an RSS pracharak for years, a man who wanted to join the Belur Math as an ascetic and priest before that to wit. Politics and power might have given him distance from those formative years, but he didn’t win the first parliamentary brute majority in 30 years without invoking Hindutva and receiving the extensive help of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. “Vikas” as a central Modi poll plank is all very well, but the Congress and others in the regional Opposition can lay fair, if not equal claim, to development and progress. If Modi fails to self-correct in the remaining five months, he could well lose power altogether. There is an urgent need to enthuse the core BJP supporters. They seem to be upset, staying away in significant numbers from the voting booths or pressing the NOTA button. To them, he has neglected Hindutva issues, besides starting the building of good roads towards the Char Dhams, inaugurating a railway line and stop to facilitate Amarnath, and putting in world class ropeways to Vaishno Devi and the like.
While the delivery of Achhe Din too leaves much to be desired, as the Opposition never fails to point out, the BJP voter is willing to give Modi more time to deliver on all that. It is unreasonable to expect a man to do in five years what has not been done in over six decades. But a majority saffron government, it is commonsensical, is definitely expected to deliver much more on Hindutva. It is here that the BJP has an opportunity to regain the initiative after a string of electoral losses including the recently concluded “semi-finals”.
There is a feeling that the Supreme Court may reserve its judgement till after the general elections, even if it sits on the Ayodhya title suit on a daily basis starting in January 2019. If this happens, or if there are further delays for the hearings, it becomes very important for the Modi government to act. It must proceed with the construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on the disputed site by using an ordinance. If this government initiates the construction of the Ram Mandir, it will greatly encourage the Hindu masses in the critically important states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and indeed in the entire Hindi heartland. Of course, a communal backlash and Opposition howl can be expected, even though it will be very difficult for the Congress to oppose the Mandir without being squarely accused of minority appeasement.
On the other hand, if the Modi government does nothing, even if the SC does not proceed, it will be seen as a great letdown, not only by the greater Sangh Parivar, who have been clamouring for the commencement of construction, but by the rank and file BJP supporter too. The Modi government cannot hope to get away with an appeal to the modernist forces that support “vikas”. Its very roots come from much older impulses—from the soul of “Bharat Mata” herself, rather than the British inspired “India”. A half of which India has been torn asunder at Partition anyway, and the remainder is much more the province of Congress.
Lest we forget the basics of the saffron party’s genesis, amongst the shilling, scripted noises of an exaggerated farmer distress, a spurious attempt at equivalence in corruption, and other Opposition planks, we need to recapitulate. In recent history, the Lotus bloomed as a symbol of approaching national power with L.K. Advani’s “phenomenally” successful Rath Yatra of 1990. This was post the 1989 general elections to the 9th Lok Sabha that threw up an unstable coalition. The BJP had campaigned using the Ayodhya movement, the Lord Ram katha and symbolism that resonated with the till then politically unawakened Hindu masses of North India. The saffron party then, and for years going forward, was vilified night and day by the Congress and others as “communal and untouchable” for voicing such blatant Hindu aspirations. Such bogus propaganda dropped the first, 13-day Vajpayee government for want of one vote. Nevertheless, that Hindutva was a potent threat was obvious, because it flew in the face of the established Nehruvian “secular” political narrative. BJP won a significant block of 85 seats in 1989.
The late Pramod Mahajan collaborated with L.K. Advani to create the Toyota mini-bus Rath thereafter. It wended its way from the Somnath Temple in Gujarat, reconstructed by Sardar Patel in 1951, through the Hindi heartland towards the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. The Somnath Temple as starting point was probably chosen for the symbolism. It was not only very sacred but had been repeatedly destroyed by Muslim invaders.
Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested L.K. Advani at Samastipur in Bihar before he could take the Rath all the way into Ayodhya, but the desired mass mobilisation and momentum had already been created.
The Babri Masjid was demolished by Kar Sevaks just two years later. For BJP, the Rath Yatra itself delivered 120 seats in the 10th Lok Sabha of 1991, which lasted a full-term, despite being a minority government, under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Going back further, the revered Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, martyred to the nationalist cause in Kashmir at the young age of 53, was the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal. The Hindu Mahasabha, established in 1915, was really the parent of the present Hindutva movement. There were other highly respected leaders such as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who also came from it. It was Mookerjee, however, who established the Bhratiya Jan Sangh in 1951, the precursor to the present day BJP, established only in 1980. Mookerjee set it up as the political wing of the RSS and not the Hindu Mahasabha. Mookerjee not only professed a blend of Hindutva, capitalist and nationalist views, having been instrumental in saving West Bengal as part of India at Partition, but was keen to put forward an alternate ideology to the Fabian Socialism imported by Jawaharlal Nehru.
At this present juncture, it is important for Narendra Modi to remember all this and deliver satisfaction to his voters. It is a time to reassert a commitment to the BJP’s core beliefs and start the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. He should realise that the Congress does not stray very far from its pseudo-secular roots and it would be a grave mistake to become an also ran.
It is time not only to make a beginning, but proceed with all pace to build a magnificent Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. It should become not just a place of fervent worship and assertion of Hindu identity, but an architectural beauty for the world to marvel at. This work, if begun, will deliver a very good chance to the BJP to romp home in 2019.