Why Has BJP’s Ram Temple Rhetoric Become Muted?
The Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi issue has not been raised by the saffron party this election season. This is particularly striking at the present as one of the seats going to the polls in phase five is Faizabad. Ayodhya is part of this Lok Sabha constituency.
The mammoth Indian election exercise has moved past the halfway point, with phase five of voting scheduled to take place on May 6th. The seven phase election will conclude on May 19th while the result will be declared on May 23rd. This election has been high on rhetoric, especially from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for whom the stakes are quite high. However, one element, which was key for them in the past, has been rather low key this time around. That is, the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
This is particularly striking at the present as one of the seats going to the polls in phase five is Faizabad. Ayodhya is part of this Lok Sabha constituency. Five years ago, in 2014, the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was a big part of the BJP’s campaign. As the so-called ‘Modi wave’ was building up steam and momentum in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, the Ram Mandir movement was a poll plank in Ayodhya. Modi had come to the area then and held a rally designed in the model of the proposed temple. “My government will build the temple,” he had thundered from that stage.
Cut to the present. The temple has not been built and the enthusiasm is also missing. This was more than apparent when Modi campaigned there on May 1st. He held a rally just 25 km from the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi disputed site. However, the script was different from the one in 2014. “Prabhu Ram ji ki dharti se, Jai Shri Ram,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi called out at the rally. But he did not say anything on the Ram Mandir issue during his 25-minute speech and he did not visit any temples either. Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, also spoke at the rally but didn’t say anything about the temple. His tone and body language was markedly different.
The narrative of the BJP has shifted. This was made clear by Modi’s speech. Security from terrorism and the Opposition were twin pillars of his speech. Terming terrorism the biggest threat facing India, Modi said at the rally that terror factories running in the neighbourhood are waiting for a weak government here. “This is a new India, which will strike terrorists in their den, within the border and outside it,” he said.
He went on to cite the bomb blasts in Sri Lanka on Easter, saying, “We saw what happened in Sri Lanka. The same situation prevailed in our country before 2014. Can we forget the blast in Ayodhya? There were terrorist attacks on a daily basis.” He further asserted that in the past five years, news of such blasts have stopped.
That plank was also used to target the Opposition, accusing them of being soft on terrorism. “Their record shows that agencies used to catch terrorists only to be let off for the sake of votes. They want to make a majboor (weak) government. You have to remain alert,” he said. He targeted the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who have formed an alliance this election, saying that they had done nothing for the poor and had misused the names of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia.
This reflects the situation on the ground. The BJP has fielded Lallu Singh, who won from Faizabad in 2014. But this time around, the picture is different. He faces a strong SP-BSP alliance, who have fielded Anand Sen Yadav. However, there is a multi-cornered battle this time around with the Congress and Shiv Sena fielding candidates as well. While the Congress has fielded Nirmal Khatri, who won the seat in 2009, Shiv Sena, despite being an ally to the BJP in the Centre, have put up Mahesh Tiwari from the seat. Both of them threaten to undercut support for Yadav and Singh, respectively.
Furthermore, the BJP is no longer really in a position to really benefit from bringing up the temple issue. Rather, it could hurt the party this time around. They have been unable to build any temple, despite being in power for the last five years with an overwhelming majority. This is clear by the fact that Tiwari, the Shiv Sena candidate, has repeatedly questioned Modi on avoiding visiting ‘Ram Lalla’ for the last five years.
Moving away from Faizabad constituency, the BJP finds itself in a similar situation. Given that it was in power for the last five years, it cannot take it up with same gusto as it did in 2014. It is a different matter that the issue is pending in court. The party had tried to whip up support in the run up to the polls over this, but it did not seem to gain much traction. The party quietly dropped the issue after a brief attempt. Furthermore, during the Ardh Kumbh that took place between January and March, the government found itself on the wrong end of ascetics angry over the ‘failure’ to build on the disputed site. Thus, perhaps, it is in the best interest of the party to not bring this issue up at all.