Ram Temple is almost here, but what next for Hindutva politics?

There is unanimity within both BJP and RSS the prime beneficiary of the Ram temple will be Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath
“For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is a dream come true,” said a member of the party’s state executive after the date for the bhumi pujan (ground-breaking ceremony) was announced. “What’s its electoral dividend…now that we’re building a temple? Zero.”

He continued: “When the (Supreme Court) judgment cleared the way for the temple, did you see any reaction? The excitement of mobilisation, of making a case, of sensitising the Hindu within all Indians…all that was in the journey. But now we’ve reached the destination and there can be only quiet satisfaction that we’ve achieved what we set out to do.”

As the August 5 ceremony draws near, there is an intense discussion within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates, including the BJP, over what the landmark represents. The Ram shila pujan, the rath yatra, and finally the demolition of Babri Masjid: How should the gains of post-independence India’s biggest mobilisation that melted caste and other divisions among Hindus be preserved and augmented, now that the battle has been won? Nilanjan Mukhopadhyaya, the author of a book on the RSS and a biography of Narendra Modi, said: “(Lal Krishna) Advaniji, after the mosque demolition, had said ‘it was the saddest day in my life. I have seldom felt as dejected and downcast as I felt on that day’. He could see that the issue was over on that day itself. Advani then began talking about something we’d never heard before. He conveyed to sympathisers and workers that the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation was not just for the Ram temple as real estate. It was for cultural nationalism. This was a phrase we’d never heard before.”

Experts, who have seen the evolution and growth of the BJP, agree the immediate political dividend of the event that the nation will see telecast live on August 5, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiastic participation, will be low. For instance, it is unlikely that the Ram temple will be the central issue in the upcoming Assembly election in Bihar at the end of the year, or even polls in several states, including West Bengal, later.

But at another level, the temple construction is seen as both opportunity and threat. Sources in the RSS said from the time Advani first flagged the issue of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the charge brought against the BJP was the party merely talks about building the temple and doesn’t actually build it because it needs the issue to be kept alive. That theory is now smashed. The BJP has established it does what it promises. This invests the party with crucial political capital: Credibility.

But the downside is that the BJP’s popularity, especially in north India, is at its peak. The Ram temple will add little to its acceptability in south India or the east. So as an electoral force multiplier, the temple brings virtually nothing to the table. If, sources in the Sangh said, the legal outcome had not gone so unequivocally in favour of the Hindus, and Modi had taken a hand to lead a movement to force a temple, there might have been exponential addition to his popularity. As things stand – “Behti Ganga mein haath dho rahe hain (he’s just flowing with the current)”.

Insiders believe there are far more important internal tensions that must be addressed. And these are within the BJP.

“The BJP’s Hindutva vote is yet to take concrete form and the party’s appeal is individual-centric, rather than Hindutva-centric: Whether it is Narendra Modi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In these circumstances, the party has no option but to keep struggling to find new vote banks. Inviting people from other parties to join the BJP is part of the same dilemma — you get new faces because you are under pressure to grow your vote share. But this is not the way to build Hindutva,” an RSS source said.

The party, therefore, has no option but to turn to nationalism. But the intellectual stream in the BJP concedes that while cultural nationalism, which can morph into the determining characteristics of Hindutva, may work in the organisational context, it is difficult to translate this as a way of political mobilisation.

Within the RSS, there is a sense that the effect of the Sangh on the BJP is dimming. Conversely, the influence of those from other groups and streams of thought is growing. While the RSS wants to change society and through that, change power politics, the BJP wants to use power politics to change society. This is leading to inevitable stress. “The BJP is not the BJP anymore —it is a version of the Congress of the 1980s,” said Govindacharya, a central figure in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and party ideologue in the 1990s.

But existential questions apart, there is unanimity within both BJP and RSS that the prime beneficiary of the Ram temple is going to be Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. “I don’t know if Yogi Adityanath is personally anti-Brahmin. But Brahmins certainly feel he is anti-Brahmin. The temple building project will paper over that friction,” Govindacharya said.

Badri Narayan, professor at G B Pant Social Sciences Institute, agreed. “Adityanath will oversee the construction. For the next two years, there will be excitement... There will be potential for mobilisation. The gains will go to Adityanath.” 

So the BJP has a temple. The question only is: What is it going to do with it?

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel