The SP and BJP stoke anxieties about the nature of the 2014 campaign
There were photo-ops aplenty to be reaped in Ayodhya on Sunday,and both the SP government and the VHP declared victory. In its piece to camera,the VHP claimed its chaurasi kosi parikrama yatra will continue,and announced a nationwide stir. The ruling SP posed against the backdrop of the massive security deployment and pronounced the yatra foiled. The subtext,on both sides,was unsubtle. The SP and the VHP were playing guardian to their target constituencies. While the speculation of match-fixing between the two may contain more than a hint of conspiracy theory,there are questions in Sundays aftermath,and in the countdown to 2014,about the political timing of a religious yatra,and also about what could be seen as the state governments disproportionate response to it.
Suspicions of the Akhilesh Yadav governments bad faith draw not only from the VHPs marginalisation in UP. They also stem from the SP governments own record. Be it the blanket withdrawal of cases against all Muslim terror-accused,or the timing of a 20 per cent minority quota in welfare schemes more recently,the SP has laid itself open to charges of manipulating communal faultlines with an eye on Lok Sabha polls. The fact,also,is that the Akhilesh government has fallen back on its promise to script a forward-looking and inclusive governance story in the state. The question the party must ask itself,therefore,is not just whether the old strategy can still bear electoral fruit,but also this: As a party,can the SP afford to completely pass up the opportunity to remake itself under a younger leader and update its pact with the people in a changing India? Glimmers of a more modern party had been visible in Akhileshs 2012 campaign,but they seem to be dimming ever since.
In the case of the BJP,whose denials of complicity in the VHPs exertions were unpersuasive,the spectacle in UP foregrounds an enduring dilemma. Over the years,as mandir lost political resonance and the BJP became a party of government at the Centre and in the states,entering into coalitions with unlikely allies,it sought to rework the balance between issues of Hindutva and development. Now,as it prepares for the next general election under the leadership of Narendra Modi who is burdened by the questions of Gujarat 2002 and who has also attempted to recast his own image that task has become especially fraught and delicate. Do the events in Ayodhya give a glimpse of the new doublespeak,or a return to the old one,ahead of 2014? The party would do well to drop the fiction of its distance from the VHP in UP and address itself,instead,to the anxieties and cynicisms that have just been stoked about its future orientation and strategy.