Yet another impediment to the functioning of Parliament came up on the last day of a difficult session — the resurgence of the temple issue forced adjournment of the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. After the death of Ashok Singhal in November, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had said that the construction of a temple in Ayodhya would be a fitting tribute to the architect of the mass movement for the shrine. At the time, such statements were dismissed as appropriately polite noises, though the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had launched a national masonry collection drive this summer. Since the BJP’s campaign for the 2014 general elections had focused mainly on development and regeneration — the rousing of the Hindutva base was an undercurrent — it was assumed that the Sangh Parivar knows that its old agendas have crumbled. This perception may be real, but the arrival of the first lot of masonry at Ayodhya shows that there are other realities in play, too.
The Sangh Parivar still bears the baggage of workers and supporters who had dedicated their lives to the project of building a permanent home for Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Besides, the agenda on which the Narendra Modi government swept to office has been pursued with insufficient energy, and it will be hard for BJP cadres in Uttar Pradesh to sell a rosy development story as the state prepares for elections. Following two consecutive bad monsoons, the first such disaster since the 1980s, the outlook for the farm sector is uninspiring, and the figures for the growth of industries and markets don’t add up to much. With employment in a slump and food inflation remaining a problem, the slogans for kick-starting a moribund nation with growth, jobs, recovered black money and so on will not fall on unquestioning ears now. The need for Plan B will be palpable, and crawling back into the safety net of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which gave the BJP its political identity, will seem inviting.
However, the BJP cannot afford to let this happen. It may be important for the VHP to periodically air reruns of its Ayodhya narrative, since it would suffer an identity crisis in its absence, but does it remain of relevance to any sizeable BJP voters’ constituency? The counter-narrative developed by Modi in the last election has delivered better value, and the Sangh Parivar would be well advised to invest in it, leaving behind the faded dreams of its greying leadership.