Will Ram Mandir construction prove to be an electoral masterstroke for BJP?

Today is a historic day for India. 

The bhoomi pujan for a grand temple to Lord Ram at his birthplace in Ayodhya was done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid a dignified ceremony in front of more than a billion Indians, watching the proceedings live on television, and 175 eminent people, including sadhus, at the site.

The city of Ayodhya was bedecked with flowers and diyas and lanternsResidents of Ayodhya celebrated on the streets and compared the event to the homecoming of Lord Ram after his 14 year vanvaas

“Pura bharat Rammay ho gaya aaj,” the prime minister said. A large section of the population feels this will lead to the establishment of Ram rajya in India. Many people have hailed PM Narendra Modi as Hindu Hriday Samrat. The Ram Mandir being constructed is in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court and it is expected to be completed in 3.5 years

Meanwhile, a political slugfest has erupted over the ceremony. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi criticised Narendra Modi for attending this religious event as he is the prime minister of a secular country. 

Congress happy

A section of the Congress party led by Priyanka Gandhi expressed happiness over the ground-breaking ceremony, trying to preempt any move by the Bharatiya Janata Party to take credit for the construction of the temple. 

Congress leader Kamal Nath even went to the extent of saying that the BJP is not the thekedaar of Hindutva. He even credited former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for opening the doors for Ram Lalla. 

The AK Antony report, analysing the reason for the Congress’s debacle in the 2014, had said that there is a perception that the Congress is pro-minorities and indulges in minority appeasement politics.

Even as the bhoomi pujan for the Ram Mandir concluded today, political parties across the spectrum welcomed the move. 

Some, however, were critical of the move, with the All India Muslim PErsonal Law Board stating that Babri was a mosque and will always remain one. 

Shiv Sena supporters left out of celebrations after parting with the BJP started to trend #DhanyawadBalasaheb on Twitter to claim credit for the construction of the temple. 

Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who attended the ceremony, said that the ‘nation stands united’ on this auspicious occasion.

After Article 370, triple talaq and now Ram Mandir, supporters of BJP are hoping it would soon fulfil another manifesto promise: the Uniform Civil Code. In Modi 2.0, analysts claim he is out there to achieve long-term objectives of the RSS-BJP, banking on an absolute majority in Lok Sabha.

Now the question on everybody’s mind is: has the BJP already ensured its victory in the next general elections? 

Although the BJP is not taking any credit and seems to be downplaying the momentous occasion, WhatsApp  groups are flooded with Modi and BJP getting credit for construction of bhavya Ram Mandir. 

Many feel Modi is just plain lucky, having played no major role in Ram Mandir movement. I recall a conversation with a senior Congress leader who once told me: “Humein Modi nahin uski kismet ko harana hai.” 

Some analysts feel that this will have no major impact on the general elections in 2024, except perhaps a bit in Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is situated. 

These political analysts highlight the fact that 65% of India’s population is between 18 and 35 years of age. Most of them have not seen the movement during the early 1990s and may not associate with it. Increasingly this group is voting on the basis of development. 

However, they ignore the fact the temple will be completed in January 2024 just a couple of months before the Lok Sabha polls in April-May. 

Grand celebrations could help BJP to create a momentum in its favour. 

This is why the Congress is also now backing the  construction of the Ram Mandir, but this betrays its  nervousness as it is desperately trying to prevent the BJP from taking all the credit. 

Other key milestones achieved in the next 1.5 years may also help the BJP in Uttar Pradesh state polls scheduled for early 2022. One should bear in mind that keys to Delhi lie with the state of UP as it sends the maximum 80 MPs to Parliament. 

BJP’s agenda

The BJP swept UP in both 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls which propelled it to form government at the Centre. The issue could resonate in the Hindi belt, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Delhi.

The Ram Mandir strengthens the Hindu nationalistic agenda of the RSS. Its Hindu vote theory strategy is built on the fact that if 50% Hindus vote for the BJP in any election, it will never lose any election. Hindus account for roughly 80% of the population. If 50% of Hindus vote for BJP its vote share will be 40%, enough to win any general elections.

Contrary to popular belief, the RSS does not believe in caste discrimination. The training of RSS volunteers makes them caste neutral. RSS advocates entry of Dalits in temples. 

It believes in socially engaging with people and has specifically intensified its outreach among SCs & STs in the past decade through Shishu Mandirs and other humanitarian work. This is one of the main reasons why the BJP has won the maximum seats in Lok Sabha reserved for SCs & STs.

This is also a big threat to regional parties who have thrived on caste based politics. Lord Ram is worshipped by all, cutting across caste and creed. If this move manages to unite Hindus then it will signal a death knell for regional parties, more so in the Hindi heartland.

General elections are still 3.5 years away. The country is currently grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant economic contraction. How will these issues, together with the progress on Ram Mandir, pan out remains to be seen. 

However, the response of the Congress and other opposition parties to the bhoomi pujan already shows their nervousness.

This Article has been originally published here

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