Yatra politics: Sangh’s Plan B to bring Modi back to power

The idea is not to allow the Ram temple plank to recede from public memory. It would be given impetus when there is need to revive the Hindutva plank for the next elections

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter
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Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

It would be impulsive to get alarmist in the short run in response to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-backed Ram Rajya Rath Yatra, flagged off last week. But, although the Yatra, headed by a refurbished Tata mini-truck atop which a replica of the VHP’s model of the proposed temple in Ayodhya is mounted, has not exactly blazed brightly on the route it has traversed so far, it would also be imprudent not to take note of the move.

These seemingly contradictory arguments are indicative of the multi-layered significance of the return of ‘Yatra politics’ and the bearing this could have on the future political course. Currently beset with factionalism within VHP and between different affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, the Yatra has yet not evoked the kind of response which previous programmes on the Ram temple agitation did. After traversing through parts of Uttar Pradesh, the Yatra crossed over into Madhya Pradesh and reached Ujjain on Tuesday. It is scheduled to conclude at Rameshwaram on March 25, when the festival of Ram Navami is due to be celebrated.

The Yatra has to be viewed through two prisms. First, the programme is indicative that the Sangh Parivar is reviving its ‘plan B’ to ensure the return of the Narendra Modi government in the next parliamentary polls. The necessity of going back to its old programme of aggressive Hindutva stems from the inability of the government to fulfil most of the promises Modi made in the course of his hyperbolic campaign in 2014.

In recent months, especially since the middle of August last year, when the first signs of restiveness among people began surfacing in the wake of the ‘unsettling’ and hasty rollout of Goods and Service Tax, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has faced electoral awkwardness in Modi’s lair. Not only did the party barely manage to retain Gujarat, but the verdict of the municipal elections demonstrated the BJP’s declining fortunes in its urban bastions too.

The Yatra has to be viewed through two prisms. First, the programme is indicative that the Sangh Parivar is reviving its ‘plan B’ to ensure the return of the Narendra Modi government in the next parliamentary polls. The necessity of going back to its old programme of aggressive Hindutva stems from the inability of the government to fulfil most of the promises Modi made in the course of his hyperbolic campaign in 2014.

Not too far back, the 2019 general election was being called a settled affair. But now the situation has altered dramatically and a BJP victory in the next Lok Sabha polls is no longer been seen as certainty. This makes it imperative for the Sangh Parivar to erect another platform that could act as the BJP’s launch pad. And, what better issue could this be if not the ‘tried and tested’ formula of communal polarisation? So, what could be the easiest way to revive the politics of hate and prejudice if not the original agitation which catapulted the BJP from parliamentary obscurity to its present hegemony in a span of three decades?

Secondly, it is also crucial to view the Yatra from the prism of internal contradictions within the Sangh Parivar. This can be best done only after keeping in mind the cardinal principle—internal cohesion always gets jeopardised with acquisition of political power. The problem stems from the limited number of ‘spoils’ or ‘rewards’ available for distribution among claimants who are far too many.

That not all is fine within the saffron camp is evident from the confusion that prevailed during the launch of the Yatra. Initially, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was to inaugurate the Yatra but pulled out at the last minute and therein hangs a story. The Yatra is technically not part of the VHP programme but is an initiative of the Shri Ram Dass Mission, which is based in Maharashtra. Not much is known about this outfit. The Sangh Parivar is backing this project and this is vital, for the fraternity alone has the capacity to arrange public meetings, scheduled to be held as the cavalcade travels southwards through six states.

Leaders of the mission had met Yogi last September and again in November and secured his blessings for the Yatra besides getting an assurance that he would formally flag off the Yatra. Evidently, the VHP decided that the Chief Minister was not to be given this privilege and instead one of its leaders would do the honours. This reportedly put Yogi off and he did not come for the launch function and eventually the Yatra was inaugurated by VHP general secretary Champat Rai.

The VHP has been at loggerheads with the Sangh leadership for several years and the RSS has not deputed pracharaks to it for several years, much before the Modi government assumed office. The basic reason behind RSS disenchantment with VHP is insistence of its leaders to remain a ‘single-focus’ organisation fixated on the Ayodhya or Ram temple issue. By harping on the unfinished agenda in Ayodhya, the VHP has politically embarrassed BJP governments—both Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s and Modi’s.

Yet the Ayodhya issue is a ‘cash crop’ for the Parivar, particularly the BJP. This is why Yogi organised Diwali function in Ayodhya besides pledging a gigantic Ram statue on the banks of the Saryu river. His decision not to involve VHP in the function indicated his desire to hold the controls of the temple plank and not to be dictated to by other affiliates.

The VHP has also faced a concerted bid by the RSS leadership to remove the Pravin Togadia-led brass. Currently, the power struggle is still underway and the distance BJP has maintained from the Yatra is linked to this.

Despite divergences, the RSS leadership would be aware that historically all Ayodhya programmes have been successful when the temple-town has been the convergence point for a programme on a particular date—as on October 30 1990 or December 6, 1992—or for a certain period, as in February 2002.

The BJP is aware that it cannot call for or allow another mobilisation in Ayodhya as it has to maintain law and order, besides not attracting judicial stricture for failing to maintain status quo at the disputed site.

This Yatra has begun in the reverse direction and is currently aimed at low-key revival of the temple plank. The Parivar knows that another ‘electrifying moment’ on the temple front can come only with the start of actual construction. This explains why the Yatra talks of raising awareness on ‘re-establishing Ram Rajya’ and inclusion of Ramayan in school curricula.

The idea is not to allow the Ram temple plank to recede from public memory. It would be given impetus when there is need to revive the Hindutva plank for the next elections. The character of the future agitation on the Ram temple will be dependent on the progress or verdict of the Supreme Court in the ongoing Ayodhya case.

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