Mandir issue promises to remain hot topic in Maharashtra

Updated: Nov 10, 2019, 06:48 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

With no end in sight for the state's political crisis, expect both the BJP and Shiv Sena to exploit Saturday's Ayodhya verdict in the days to come

(From left) Uddhav and Aditya Thackeray addressed the media at Shiv Sena Bhavan on Friday. Pics/ Ashish Raje
(From left) Uddhav and Aditya Thackeray addressed the media at Shiv Sena Bhavan on Friday. Pics/ Ashish Raje

THE Ram Mandir issue, which brought the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in New Delhi and various state capitals over the last 25 years, has reached its logical end. But, the BJP and its saffron ally Shiv Sena may juice the issue one last time in their quest for power in Maharashtra. 

The Supreme Court has cleared the building of a temple in the disputed land in Ayodhya, asking for the demolished mosque to be rebuilt in a different part of the communally sensitive town. Barring a few dissenting voices, most stakeholders were unanimous in welcoming the decision.

Road to power

It was on the back of LK Advani's Rath Yatra and post-Babri Masjid demolition riots that the BJP propelled itself into national politics. Sena founder, the late Bal Thackeray, had no qualms in admitting that Shiv Sainiks were involved in the demolition. The period saw a shift in the Sena's narrative from the Marathi manoos cause.

The Sena-BJP combine carried forward the Hindutva agenda with unprecedented aggression and took the slogan "Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai' to the target audience in the state. It resulted in the first-ever Sena-BJP government in 1995. The BJP came to power at the Centre soon. The saffron coalition went through turbulence, but survived.

However, now a revived pact faces a bleak future, with the Sena locked in fierce battle with the BJP for the CM's post despite winning far fewer seats. Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said on the eve of the verdict that the BJP shouldn't claim credit for resolving the issue. "What has the BJP government done? We have been demanding a law in the Parliament for facilitating Ram Mandir, which they didn't do. They cannot say now that they did it alone."

PM Narendra Modi targeted Thackeray while concluding Devendra Fadnavis's Mahajadesh Yatra. Without naming the Sena boss, Modi had said, "I wonder why some badbole and bayaan bahadur are making unwarranted statements over Ram Mandir. People are expected to have respect for and trust
in the Supreme Court and Dr Ambedkar's Constitution."

Cop
A cop takes  a picture outside the BJP office in Churchgate

Uddhav responded, saying he had faith in the judiciary, but since the case has been running for too long, he would go to Ayodhya again, referring to his much-hyped visit to the disputed site last November, where he started pressurising the BJP to act on the temple issue. He coined the slogan, "Har Hindu ki yehi pukar, pahale mandi fir sarkar", preparing the ground for a pre-Lok Sabha poll alliance. But recent developments have seen the relationship deteriorate.

Friendly fire

If the current political crisis results in mid-term polls, expect the Sena to counter BJP's attempts to extract any mileage from the Ayodhya issue. On Saturday, Uddhav invoked his father Bal Thackeray, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Advani and kar sevaks who died in the Babri demolition and subsequent riots.
"I don't claim any credit but I must tell you that I had visited Ayodhya [last] November 24 and carried the soil from Shivneri Fort, where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born. I will take the Shivneri soil again to Ayodhya [this] November 24," he said.

Without mentioning the BJP's current leadership, he said the parties that truly lived Hindutva instead of just paying lip service should come together to maintain peace. He said he will visit Advani in New Delhi, but didn't mention the party's current leadership, making it clear that he was still averse to the idea of resuming government formation talks. Fadnavis, for his part, said the court verdict should not be interpreted differently. "This isn't anyone's loss or defeat. This verdict has, in fact, strengthened the highest values of our democracy," he said, endorsing Modi's remark that the decision had enhanced a sense of Bharat bhakti in everyone.

Political observers said that while the right-wing parties may be subtle in exchanging messages, they will not lie low for long. Former head of Mumbai University's Department of Political Science, Surendra Jondhale, said the BJP will certainly try to exploit the issue.

"The BJP will use all channels to impress upon the people that it has won a battle on behalf of Hindus, but it may not assert its position now because it does not want a political turmoil in view of its tussle with the Sena. The BJP will lower its tone, avoid aggressive posturing, but also ensure the message reaches the voters," he said, adding that it will use Kashi and Mathura next to revive the Hindutva wave.

Asked about Kashi and Mathura, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in New Delhi that his organisation was active only in the Ram temple agitation. "Conducting agitation isn't our job," he said. Jondhale said the Sena will not lag behind while the Congress and NCP will try to be neutral and not upset the Hindu vote bank.

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