L K Advani atop a chariot with chants of Jai Sri Ram by diehard Hindutva supporters renting the air had set the tone for BJP’s bid to come to power in 1989. What followed was a dream run for the saffron party.
Advani was hailed as a Hindutva icon and BJP performed exceptionally well in the communally surcharged elections that followed the Rath Yatra, winning 85 Lok Sabha seats. The Ram Mandir issue took centre stage in the party and divided the Indian polity across religious lines.
In the decade that followed Advani’s countrywide yatra, the BJP’s Ayodhya movement helped it make inroads into the Hindi heartland.
Cut to 2014. The quintessential Advani rath has made way for a private jet. Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, crisscrosses the country in one of those small aircrafts seeking votes in the name of development. There is not even a mention of BJP’s very own Ram temple. Perhaps, realising the needs and aspirations of a young India where more than 378 million of 814 million eligible voters are between 18 and 35, the BJP has made a nuanced shift in its stand on Ayodhya.
From being top on its agenda, the promise of construction of a Ram Mandir finds a place on page 41 of the party manifesto released ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It seems the party’s drubbing in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections have forced the party to rethink its strategy.
From its core ideology to a cosmetic mention of the Ram Mandir in 2014, the party is clearly moving away from its position to make the party more appealing to allies.
Here is how the Ram Mandir issue found a mention in BJP’s poll manifestos over the years
1996: In its election manifesto, the BJP “reiterated its commitment to facilitate the construction of a magnificent Ram temple at Janmasthan in Ayodhya on coming to power as this dream moves millions of people in our land; the concept of Ram lies at the core their consciousness.”
1998: “The BJP is committed to facilitate the construction of a magnificent Shri Ram Mandir at Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya where a makeshift temple already exists. Shri Ram lies at the core of Indian consciousness. The BJP will explore all consensual, legal and constitutional means to facilitate the construction of Shri Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.”
2004: “The BJP reaffirms its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.”
2009: “There is an overwhelming desire of the people in India and abroad to have a grand temple at the birth place of Sri Ram in Ayodhya. The BJP will explore all possibilities, including negotiations and judicial proceedings, to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.”
2014: “BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.”