General quota, Budget goodies win RSS' favour, put Ram temple on backburner

People look at a model of the Ram Mandir, to be built in Ayodhya, showcased at the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, Friday, January 18, 2019. Photo: PTI
The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has shelved its plans to start the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. On the face of it, the move is a jolt to the core supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and betrays scepticism within the Sangh Parivar that the issue is not finding resonance. However, the Sangh Parivar, to the contrary, is not perturbed that the decision could lead to any significant loss of its support base in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. 

Initially, the 'Dharma Sansad' had threatened to start construction work near the disputed site in the third week of March. An address to the gathering by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had led to commotion when he had said the agitation should be postponed until a later date. The VHP spent much effort to convince Hindu saints to agree to postpone the agitation. Eventually, the Sangh Parivar leadership was able to strike a truce. Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government's announcement of a pension scheme for saints helped, as did other promises.

Sources in the fraternal organisations of the RSS, including those who work with organised sector workers and farmers, believe the Narendra Modi government's recent decisions, including the Budget announcements, would help blunt the incipient anger among middle classes, traders and farmers, and it doesn't need to resort to raking up the temple issue in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar believe the Modi government's recent amendment to the Constitution to provide for 10 per cent reservation in jobs for economically weaker sections among the general category has helped it restore the confidence of the upper caste Hindu youth in his leadership. 

Moreover, the Budget announcement of the Prime Minister Kisan scheme has also been welcomed. The Sangh Parivar workers have been tasked with spreading the message of the scheme, that the government would deposit Rs 6,000 in a year as income support in the bank accounts of 120 million farmers.

Initially rattled by the Opposition criticism that the income support amounted to a meagre Rs 17 per day, Union Minister Arun Jaitley has said that BJP state governments could top it up with another couple of thousand rupees. There is speculation that the Centre might also increase the amount in the days to come when Parliament sits down to discuss the Interim Budget.

The government has said the income tax rebate for those earning Rs 5 lakh per annum would benefit an estimated 30 million taxpayers. That is potentially 120 million voters. The BJP believes the sundry schemes of the Modi government have reached as many as 200 million poor.

The BJP is also sure that a large number of its support may be angry with the party for the ills of demonetisation and hurried implementation of goods and services tax, but lack of a leader in the opposition camp and recent policy decisions would help it retain its 31 per cent vote it had received in 2014.

Party strategists also are of the view that it would be able to put forth 'corruption' as a key issue, and highlight the difference between a "hard working, honest" leader in Modi, who is committed to building a 'new India', versus the rest of the opposition leaders, who are not just "corrupt" but lack any vision.

The recent face off with Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress could hurt the BJP in West Bengal, but in the rest of the country the party would point out how "all corrupt opposition leaders ganged up against Modi" to save themselves. More raids by central agencies on those with links to opposition leaders, particularly in the BJP ruled states, would continue, at least until the Election Commission announces the model code of conduct.

The challenge now before the Opposition is to keep the political discourse focussed on issues of job losses, agrarian distress and the poor lot of unorganised workers.

The BJP strategy, as evident in its launch of a 'sampark', or outreach, on Sunday to seek help to draft its manifesto is to reach out to at least 100 million households and ask them to contribute their ideas for a 'new India'. The BJP hopes enough of the electorate would have emotionally and ideologically invested in the party and Modi's leadership and be immune to the Opposition criticism by the time elections come knocking.

An interesting poll battle lies ahead.  

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