Rath Yatra politics: A fixed match between AIMPLB and Sangh Parivar

File photo of VHP saints at Karsevak Puram in Ayodhya on December 6, 2017, the 25th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition

There is a whiff of Ram fragrance in the country’s politics once again as another rath yatra sets off today from Ayodhya. Once again it’s Hindutva forces for Ram Mandir versus AIMPLB for Babri Masjid

There is a whiff of Ram fragrance in the country’s politics once again. Nearly, two and half decades after gamechanger LK Advani’s infamous rath yatra, another Ram rath yatra has set off today from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. It is no coincidence that simultaneously, Muslims players like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board with their pro-Babri mosque rhetoric are in the news, too.

Since the controversy around Ram temple in Ayodhya revolves around the Babri mosque, it is, indeed, obvious that the name of a Muslim outfit will pop up whenever the issue comes up. First it was the Babri Masjid Action Committee championing the Muslim cause in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the VHP and Advani were out in the field for the temple cause. It is once again Hindutva forces for the temple versus AIMPLB for the Babri mosque.

But here lies the catch for a journalist like me, who has covered and witnessed the entire controversy from the day Babri mosque was unlocked through a judicial order on February 2, 1986. Over 25 years have passed since the demolition of the Babri masjid and much water has flown down the Saryu river since, but not much has changed in terms of politics of Ram temple.

Bhagwan Ram is a much-revered religious figure in the Hindu pantheon. So, the construction of a Ram temple on the site of a demolished mosque is bound to be an emotive issue for many Hindus, as well as Muslims. But, how to translate this into an explosive issue in terms of electoral politics for the BJP? A religious issue for the two major Indian communities could electorally help the BJP only if a Hindu votebank is crystallised around the perception that the BJP and its Hindutva allies are the ones championing the Ram temple cause for Hindus.

Here comes the need for an obstinate Muslim outfit to generate Hindu backlash. An outfit like Babri Masjid Action Committee and now the AIMPLB fits the bill. That is how a fixed Hindu versus Muslim game begins that ultimately suits Hindutva forces, which eventually converts into a BJP poll victory.

This fixed competitive communalisation of Muslim versus Hindu on the Ram temple issue ultimately generated a Hindu backlash that destroyed not just the Babri mosque, but also many Muslims at large and damaged the Indian liberal political narrative once and for all

First, the Muslim players go on a seemingly obstructionist path, with high pitched objections against Ram temple construction. “Once-a-mosque-always-a-mosque” is the old wine in a new bottle. It was the same logic that the Babri Masjid Action Committee came up with in the 1980s-90s, that the AIMPLB is is now using in defence of its case. This is nonsense as every member of the Board knows very well that even building a road on the site of a mosque is a common practise in an Islamic state like Saudi Arabia. Yet the Board is insisting on the same logic that boomeranged when Babri mosque was demolished.

But why is the AIMPLB doing this despite Muslims losing heavily in the first round of the Ram temple movement? It could either be sheer naivete or some elements of the Board acting on someone’s cue to suit the Hindutva game plan. How could anti-Ram temple noises stand to suit the pro-Ram temple forces? Very simple. If there would be no Muslim resistance to an emotive issue like Ram temple, there could be no Hindu backlash. A backlash happens only when there is bitter resistance to something.

This is exactly what happened in the 1980s-90s, when the Babri Masjid Action Committee opposed the Ram temple tooth and nail. Initially, committee players like Azam Khan and Maulana Obeidullah Azmi delivered highly provocative speeches in Muslim rallies, attended by thousands of emotionally charged Muslims, who rent the air with Nara-e-taqbeer/Allah-ho-akbar slogans. This was then followed by VHP rallies in support of the Ram temple with equally, or at times even more provocative speeches by firebrands including Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara. This fixed competitive communalisation of Muslim versus Hindu on the Ram temple issue ultimately generated a Hindu backlash that destroyed not just the Babri mosque, but also many Muslims at large and damaged the Indian liberal political narrative once and for all.

It is the same old fixed game that has now begun between the AIMPLB and the Hindutva forces. Initially, the Board, read Muslim, cacophony will get much more play both in the public as well as the media. So, get ready to watch all sorts of bearded Muslim characters on prime-time TV shows, with the Board issuing highly provocative statements till Hindu anger builds up. Once enough sentiments are pent up around Ram temple, the Hindutva chorus will take over to drown out the Muslim cacophony. The loser will be both Muslims and liberal politics as the united Hindu vote bank would electorally suit only the BJP and its prime leader Narendra Modi.

Modi is now on a weak wicket electorally. He no longer can hoodwink voters with his vikas nara. He desperately needs a theme changer for the next round of Lok Sabha elections. Ram temple alone could change the game for better, for a sinking Modi.

The Prime Minister need not worry much as long as obliging Muslim players like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board are around.

Zafar Agha is Editor-in-chief of National Herald’s sister publication, Qaumi Awaz. He tweets at @zafaragha70

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