Ram Versus Rafale

As the ruling BJP is trying to fuel Ram Temple issue once again, principal opposition party is tossing Rafale as their main agenda for the fast approaching 2019 Lok Sabha Polls


What will be the game-changer in the 2019 parliamentary elections? Ram or Rafale? In 1989, it was Ram and Bofors. In 1991, Ram appeared again. That was six months after Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested Lal Krishna Advani, stopping his Rath Yatra in October 1990. Then came the destruction of the Babri Masjid by the karsevaks on 6 December 1992, two years after the Rath Yatra. That was almost 26 years ago. But those two years changed the political and ideological landscape of the country.

It was against the backdrop of this Hindu aggressive politics that the Hindutva alliance of the Shiv Sena-BJP came to power in 1995 in Maharashtra. Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray had publicly congratulated the Hindutva karsevaks and said that he was proud of the Shiv Sainiks – although there were no Shiv Sainiks among the karsevaks. But the Shiv Sena merely wanted to take “credit” for the Hindutva militancy.

Although there is no authentic record of the number of people killed during those two years, particularly after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, it is estimated that a few thousand people died across north India. What is more important is that a psychological partition of sorts ensued, which has defined the electoral politics since then.

In the 1996 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP made major strides winning 161 seats, up from just two seats in 1984. The growing Hindu militancy, even among the educated and computer-savvy middle classes, was the driving factor for this victory.

The 13-day government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 was actually a trailer for 1998 when the BJP won 182 seats and ruled for 13 months. The party repeated its performance with the same number of seats in 1999 and formed a government that lasted a full term, till 2004. During these six years, the lower and middle bureaucracy was infused with considerable recruitment of Hindutva sympathisers, particularly in the police and intelligence departments, say insiders.

It was during the Vajpayee years that the non-resident Indian pride in Hindutva had begun to spread its tentacles. The NRI Hindutva has played a major role, although not adequately highlighted, in the rise of the RSS and the BJP. There was also the huge IT-driven migration to the US in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That “Passage to America” had begun during the Rajiv Gandhi years but acquired momentum in the so-called Y2K years, 1999-2001.

This NRI class, although a product of the Nehru-Rajiv era of IITs and computers, thought of itself as a self-made, super-achieving tribe. It began to embrace an assertive brand of Hindu Identity. For the NRIs, the Hindu “Asmita” was synonymous with new nationalism and anti-Islamism. Anti-Islamism was rapidly taking roots in the US and Europe, particularly after 9/11. The post-1985 migrant to the US was getting influenced by this mood.

There needs to be a research-based sociological study to determine the influence of the prosperous NRIs on the aspirational middle classes in India, and also in promoting the Hindu cause in the ‘90s.

By 1987, the BJP had decided to project the Hindu agenda. The Ayodhya campaign, the demand for uniform civil code and abolition of Article 370 became its rallying cry. The ABVP, the Bajrang Dal, and the VHP spread their network across India with this campaign.

The impact of this campaign was seen in the 1989 election itself when the BJP tally went up to 85 seats, and the party secured 11.36 per cent votes. In 1991, a year after the Rath Yatra, the Hindu frenzy picked up. The vote percentage went up to 20.11 and seat tally to 120. In 1998, just six years after Babri demolition, the vote percentage jumped to 25.59 and the BJP won 182 seats. So clearly, doing politics in the name of Ram had benefitted the BJP.

The 2004 election was an accidental pause. The Congress had only 145 seats, just seven seats more than the BJP’s 138. But the fall of the BJP from 182 seats appeared steep and the victory of the UPA looked stunning because of the strong support from the Left (62 seats)and other pre-arranged alliances with some regional outfits.

In reality, the social base of the Congress had begun to shift slowly towards the Right. Many Congressmen vacillated between the secular and the Hindutva poles. Some switched sides to Hindutva for self-interest. That process continues even today.

The RSS is aware of this shift in the social base. That is why it has threatened to launch the “Mandir wahin banayenge” campaign again, without waiting for the Supreme Court verdict. Bhayyaji Joshi, the sarkaryavah of the RSS, said that “Hindus are feeling insulted” and, therefore, “would not hesitate to launch an agitation for the Ram Mandir”. He hinted that the court directive is not needed to start building the Ram Mandir.

Indeed, he warned the Supreme Court to rethink its priorities. “Society should respect the court and the court should also respect society and its sentiments (read: Hindus)”. He appealed to the government to bring an ordinance for building the Ram Mandir. In fact, reports coming from Uttar Pradesh, particularly Ayodhya, indicate that a congregation of “karsevaks” has already begun.

So, the RSS is clearly pushing for a repeat of the 1990 Rath Yatra and a 1992-style mobilisation of volunteers who demolished the Babri Masjid. Their calculation suggests that the consolidation of Hindus during the elections, as seen in the 1996, 1998 and 1999 elections, will help the BJP return to power again. “Hindus are victims in Hindu India” is a tagline once again.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s decision to build a huge statue of Lord Ram, almost to match the Patel statue, isn’t a coincidence. The project “Hindu Rashtra” has been launched with full aggression. The slogans of development have either disappeared or now sound hollow.

Now, even the Shiv Sena has threatened to launch its own “Ayodhya” agitation and declared that Uddhav Thackeray will visit the city on 25 November. The Sena boss reportedly claimed that his party’s “ultimatum” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, issued nearly two weeks ago, has actually forced the RSS to start its campaign! The “challenge” was thrown by the Shiv Sena at the Modi government and the RSS. So, the “credit” for the new edition of the Hindu militancy is being claimed by the Sena.

The question is: will Ram be the vote-catcher again? Will the BJP be able to camouflage the massive anger among the farmers, the rising petrol prices, the free fall of Rupee, the decline in manufacturing and exports, the trade deficit, the rising NPAs and the crisis in banking, and the overall economic chaos by the Ayodhya politics? If the Modi regime comes back to power, the “Hindu Rashtra” would be in place even without changing the Constitution. And the giant witness to this change would be the new statue of Vallabhbhai Patel, who had banned the RSS in 1948.

Will the ghosts in the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Reserve Bank of India disappear seeing the images of Ram? Has our society, including the so-called educated class, given up reason and embraced superstition; choosing to believe in hype rather than reality? Has it started going back to the medieval or even pre-historical past instead of marching forward?

The 2019 elections may provide an interregnum but may not halt India’s regressive march.