Back To Ram Rant

Since, the BJP has not much to showcase as their achievement to their voters, the BJP seems to be resting it’s hopes on the Supreme Court’s final verdict in Ramjanmbhoomi Case

By Asit Manohar

Political battles can be complicated and stony, yet reckonable when it comes to learning the lessons of the past. At a time when elections are being fought with utmost vehemence, one cannot rule out the possibility of drawing a war analogy, and which war could have set a better precedent than the Mahabharata itself.

Drawing analogies from the great epic, Rahul Gandhi recently likened Congress to the Pandavas and BJP to the Kauravas. During the Congress party’s plenary session in March 2018, Rahul asserted — “Like the Kauravas, the BJP and the RSS are designed to fight for power, but like the Pandavas, the Congress is designed to fight for truth.” However, it’s not the first time that the great Mahabharata epic has been invoked in the country’s politics. We have seen several politicians mentioning Mahabharata and Indian politics in the same breath earlier too.

While Congress President is busy terming the coming 2019 Lok Sabha Polls as the Battle of Mahabharata, his arch rival BJP is trying to draw a war analogy from another epic, the Ramayana, by going back to the “Ram” rant. The opposition must be feeling the shivers withKapil Sibal’s plea to defer the ‘Ramjanmbhoomi’ hearing in Supreme Court till after the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls being turned down by the apex court and the hearing entering the final stage.

LEGAL ANGLE

With pleadings in the case still to be completed, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra directed the registry in February 2018 to complete all procedural requirements and asked the parties to bring on record all documents, exhibits translations etc for the final arguments. Misra said that the issue would be heard as a ‘pure land dispute.’ The court is hearing a total of 13 appeals filed against the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad high court in four civil suits. They challenge the Allahabad high court verdict that mandated a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acre site.

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court had ruled in favour of partitioning the land equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, NirmohiAkhara and the ‘Ram Lalla’ (infant Lord Ram), represented by the Hindu Mahasabha. A civil suit for deciding the title of the property on which the Babri Masjid stood, before it was demolished on 6 December 1992, had been filed before the high court. The apex court stayed this decision in 2011. The Shia Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh told the Supreme Court in August 2017 that it is amenable to building a mosque in a Muslim-dominated area, at a reasonable distance from the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. It said that rather than partition the site in Ayodhya, the proposed mosque could be located at a reasonable distance from the disputed site to avoid any clashes in the future.

The Supreme Court has fixed its next hearing in August 2018 on the appeals relating to the Ram Janmabhoomi case. The date follows from the apex court’s grant of three months’ time for making translations of the historic documents required for hearings. The Supreme Court has constituted a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra to hear a batch of petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute case. The bench, whose other members are Justices Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer, would adjudicate the dispute over ownership of Ram temple-Babri masjid land.

FROM MYTHOLOGY TO POLITICS

What, then, is the history of the Ayodhya case? How can a dispute over the title to a small plot of land in small-town India shake the very foundations of the republic? The Supreme Court is being asked to restore to India’s Hindu majority the possession of land on which a mosque stood for over 400 years prior to December 06, 1992. If the court agrees, it is likely to be seen as having succumbed to majoritarian instincts bedeviling governance in the Indian subcontinent.

On the other hand, a rejection of the Hindu claim might appear to perpetuate a medieval-period Muslim injustice, wherein Mir Baqi, a general of the first Mughal emperor, Babar, allegedly built a mosque after destroying a temple commemorating the birthplace of Hindu god Ram.

A decision either way is likely to exacerbate communal tensions in a land driven by deep divisions. Whether there really existed a temple before the mosque was built is at the core of the controversy. A further question is if a wanton destruction 400 years ago can be avenged politically, or rectified through any legal process that would be constitutional, in a nation governed by the rule of law. The most important political question, however, is: What kind of a republic is India? Is it to be a secular republic, treating all faiths equally? Or is it to be one where its majority Hindu faith is to be predominant in all public actions?

CURRENT SITUATION

Amongst members of the ruling dispensation, the demolition of the Babri Masjid is seen more as an assertion of the legitimate rights of Hindus, rather than as an instance of the total breakdown of the rule of law. The building of a grand temple in Ayodhya at the very spot that the mosque once stood is now seen as only a matter of time by supporters of the ruling dispensation.

The case in the Supreme Court is seen as an unnecessary impediment to be overcome by a judicial verdict or by a parliamentary law. If there is seen to be no definite movement towards the construction of the temple, it would be taken as a breach of political faith on the part of the Hindu nationalist BJP.

In March 2017, BJP Rajya Sabha lawmaker Subramanian Swamy (who was not originally a party to the Ayodhya dispute) intervened in the appeals pending before the Supreme Court, and asked for an early hearing. The application for the opening of the gates of the mosque (that ultimately led to the events of 1992) was also made by a stranger to the proceedings.

Swamy’s original plea for an early hearing was rejected by the court. However, in July 2017, the court agreed to list the appeals for hearing. After various administrative delays, the matter came to be listed on Dec. 5, 2017, a day before the 25th anniversary of the demolition.

The bench hearing the appeals is headed by chief justice Misra. He is to retire in October 2018 and would have to adjudicate the appeals before retirement. Should the judgment indeed be delivered before October 2018, it would come only months before the 2019 general election. Whichever way the court decides, the judgment will introduce an emotive religious issue that is likely to be used by the ruling party and the opposition to gloss over issues related to governance and the economy.

If the title is vested in the Hindu side, it may well be seen as another instance of an organ of state succumbing to majoritarianism. If the title is vested in the Muslim side, it is unlikely that the mosque can be rebuilt without major repercussions on the ground. All told, a final judicial verdict either way will not result in a solution, but is more likely to exacerbate existing fissures in a multicultural society.

HOPE FOR BJP

And here lies the scope for ‘party with difference’ to score over its political rivals. The whole political set up is convinced that the final verdict in Ramjanmbhoomi Case would come by thesaid August hearing. That’s why Congress leader and leading Supreme Court lawyer Kapil Sibal filed a plea in the Apex Court to defer verdict in the Ramjanmbhoomi Case till 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. Since, his plea has been rejected and Subrahmanyam Swami’s plea too has also been rejected, both Congress along with rest of the opposition and the BJP are awaiting the final verdict ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. As the Supreme Court has already said that the case would be taken as a ‘property dispute’ and Sunni Waqf Board has asked for an amiable place for mosque, BJP leaders believe that Supreme Court ruling would come in favour of the Hindu Mahasabha and NirmohiAkhara. Since, it’s ownership on land that will decide whether there would be a mosque or a temple there, opposition leaders are convinced that court ruling favouring Hindu organizations would help BJP plays its polarization game ahead of the 2019 General Elections.

“Since both Central and UP Government is run by the BJP, I believe there would be no review petition coming from either of the government after the Supreme Court ruling favouringNirmohiAkhara and Hindu Mahasabha. However, if the Apex Court rules in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board, then both central and state government would jump with their plea to review the ruling. So, on either side of the verdict, BJP will have an advantage to polarize voters if the ruling come ahead of crucial Lok Sabha Polls,” said Bhupinder Singh Hooda, senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Haryana. Asked about the impact of Supreme Court’s final ruling on Ramjanmbhoomi Case ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Polls Hooda added, “If the Lok Sabha Polls are conducted today, Congress can win a minimum of seven seats while it has a better chances of winning all ten seats if proper candidate selection happens. However, if the Supreme Court ruling comes ahead of next Lok Sabha Polls, anything can happen. Given how it was polarization helped BJP win Haryana Assembly and Lok Sabha Polls, the situation is one ofconcern. Now, people have started to analyze their performance both at centre and in the states as they won the stateafter the 2014Lok Sabha victory. Since, the BJP has nothing to showcase as their achievement while talking about their performance; this final ruling in Ramjanmbhoomi Case can become a blessing in disguise for the BJP.”

GROUND REALITY

To know what can happen to the Modi government if the Supreme Court final ruling in Ramjanmbhoomi Case doesn’t come out in time, we need to rely on some credible opinion survey. The Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation Survey, published a fortnight ago, threw up a faint prospect of the ruling party’s defeat. The survey  findings state that Modi’s government is about as unpopular right now as the UPA was in July 2013, nine months before its electoral debacle in 2014 — “nearly half (47 percent) of the total 15,859 respondents are of the opinion that the Modi government does not merit another opportunity”. While minorities like Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs are overwhelmingly against the government, the majority Hindu community is virtually split down the middle over its support/opposition. Over the last 12 months, “BJP’s popularity is down seven percentage points… if this declining trend continues then the ruling party may well dip below the 30 percent mark in the next few months.”

The Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation Survey finds that the Congress could “net about one in four votes (25 percent) nationally”; and the erstwhile UPA would secure 31 percent of the votes across the country. Remember, this does not include the Congress’s new-found allies, which are Mayawati’sBahujanSamaj Party, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, and HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), which could add another 11 percentage points to the ‘new UPA’s’ tally. However, finding that can be disturbing for the BJP President Amit Shah is that Prime Minister Modi is now only marginally ahead of Rahul Gandhi in voter support; his 17 percentage points lead has fallen to only 10 percentage points. An equal 43 percent like both Modi and Rahul; and since fewer people dislike Rahul, his ‘net likeability’ is actually better than Modi’s.

So, if the findings of the survey are correct and well measured, then certainly the final verdict in Ramjanmbhoomi Case is the only hope for the BJP to return to power with a thunder in 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. In fact, symptoms of such BJP plans started to surface when their minority face Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that ‘BJP would contest 2019 Lok Sabha Polls on development while his party colleague Vinay Katiyar, Giriraj Singh, Sambit Patra, Sudhanshu Trivedi etc.  immediately announced that ‘Ram Temple’ issue is close to BJP and it would continue to remain the same for the ‘party with difference’ in the coming days too.

POLL ARITHMATIC

Now, the question is, why such diverse views by various top leaders of the BJP on such a sensitive issue? Are they divided over what could be the agenda for BJP in 2019? The answer is no. The BJP has already decided that they will go to 2019 Lok Sabha Polls based upon the clean image of Narendra Modi (as there is no  serious corruption charges against him backed by proper incriminating evidence) and Hindutva. This BJP plan became visible when they put their UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanathon the list of star campaigners in Tripura, Meghalaya, Goa and Karnataka assembly polls. They even asked Yogi to address their party rallies meant for expansion in West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala.

Commenting upon the BJP strategy for 2019 Lok Sabha polls Sandeep Dev, bestselling Hindi author who has written biographies for personalities such as  Yogi Adityanath and Baba Ramdev, said, “BJP leadership is going to 2019 Polls with an acceptance that they would lose around 20-25 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, they would lose an additional 30-35 seats in Hindi heartland comprising states like Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhant because they are at the saturation level in these states. They are expecting to pare around 25 seats in West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha. In fact, they are quite aggressive in Odisha as they are sniffing an opportunity to form state government in the coastal state.”

However, Dev had a caution for the BJP which is that the party is dubbed as ‘party of Hindus’ but in actual it represents only 31-32 percent Hindu voters. ‘Therefore, as and when opposition has united, BJP has crumbled even when its vote bank has remained intact with it. Glaring example of it is the 2004 Lok Sabha Poll.” He said that UP and Bihar remains crucial for both BJP and the opposition parties as they elect 120 parliamentarians. In Bihar, it’s already facing ire of its partners, especially after inducting Nitish Kumar, who defected from the ‘Grand Alliance’ and joined NDA in August 2017. Induction of JDU in the NDA may have made NDA strong on papers but in actual, it has made the alliance partners vulnerable as both RLSP chief UpendraKushwaha and LJP supremoRamvilasPaswan are feeling the heat of losing seats totheir new ally. BJP’s dilemma is a little different. Since, Nitish Kumar has jumped so many ships in last four years, it has become difficult for the Modi-Shah duo to sense actual strength of Nitish Kumar. If castes, other than Kurmis, have left Nitish Kumar, then UpendraKushwaha’s RLSP is a better ally than JDU because the party has a vote bank of near 10 percent Kushwaha votes which is evenly distributed in entire state. While Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi vote bank is mere 4.5 percent which is concentrated in Magadh region. However, steps to keep both parties under NDA are on. But, once the Supreme Court verdict in Ramjanmbhoomi Case comes, all warring allies would calm down as winnability of both BJP and its allies would go northward overnight and jumpships may avoid thinking of switch.

Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, BJP and its ally Apna Dal won 73 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, out of which they have lost three in by-polls. If the Ramjanmbhoomi verdict doesn’t come before 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, ‘BJP may not be able to win even half of what they won in 2014,’ said Sandeep. He said in his social media post after the Kairana debacle, “While the opposition has united in last four years, BJP has disintegrated during this period. The UP BJP unit has transformed into three factions — one led by Keshav Prasad Maurya, one by Yogi Adityanath and one by RSS nominee Sunil Bansal. There is utter disconnect between the UP Chief Minister and the BJP state party workers. They are still loyal to Keshav Prasad Maurya and call him adhyakshjee though Mahendra Pandey has become state BJP president. Now, comes Sunil Bansal who is working as super CM and taking decisions on behalf of CM Adityanath.” Therefore, Adityanath has been made CM but he doesn’t have full control over the government. He is helpless as he is sharing his power with Sunil Bansal. However, Sandeep added that Yogi has still full support of BJP national president Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi because they still believe that if Supreme Court ruling comes in favour of NirmohiAkhara and the ‘Ram Lalla’ represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, only Yogi can help them develop Ram Temple in quick time.

Hence, next ten months are crucial from political perspective as both BJP and opposition would approach their plans keeping ‘Ram Temple’ issue in mind and Supreme Court ruling on the contentious Ramjanmbhoomi Case is bound to work as a catalyst in the coming poll season.