The Duke of Wellington remarked at Waterloo about his mercenary troops that whatever effect they had on his enemies, they frightened him. Narendra Modi may have similar thoughts about the cacophony of voices seeking to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya without waiting for the Supreme Court to hear and decide on the long-running case. All of a sudden, the most urgent task for the nation seems to be to build a temple rather than worry about jobs, inflation, growth, farmer distress or even terrorism. The worst aspect of this movement is that it represents core supporters of the BJP, its Parivar members. If care is not taken, they may get their way.
Why are they in such a hurry? The case has been with the courts for decades. The debate about the site goes back five hundred years. Even the destruction of the Babri Masjid happened 26 years ago. What is the urgency now? When the Supreme Court scheduled the hearing in January next year rather than November, why did this storm erupt?
The only answer this leads to is that these core supporters have given up any hope of Modi winning again. The next few months before the general election seem to them the last chance of getting the temple built. Once elections take place, they fear defeat. This can be the only explanation of the demand for bypassing Parliament and promulgating an ordinance. Yogi Adityanath has even implied that regardless of the legal situation, temple-building should commence as all the materials are ready at hand. When the Masjid was demolished by the Parivar associates, Kalyan Singh, the then BJP chief minister, promised to enforce law and order but never intended to. It may quite be that the current Chief Minister may repeat that policy and, while lawbreakers build the temple, the UP government would stand by. Then, if the government is dismissed, he can run again as the Man who built the Mandir. After all, the law is being defied in Sabarimala with tacit support of the RSS and studied indifference by the Centre.
The only problem with this idea is that, if there was any doubt, this would definitely lead to Modi losing his majority. He was elected not as a temple enthusiast nor as a Hindu fundamentalist, whatever his private views. He was elected because he offered an inclusive policy of development. Until he re-formulated BJP strategy and made it more modern, relevant to people’s lives and inclusive, the core vote of the BJP yielded at most 183 seats in 1999. The extra 100 seats Modi won in 2014 came from the middle ground —middle-class and the young urban India which is not passionate about this or that mandir. For them economic prosperity matters as, for the poorer sections, the health policy embodied in the PMJAY is more important.
Lawbreaking in defiance of the Supreme Court will alienate middle India. The core vote is always going to be there. To win a majority a party has to go beyond the core. Narendra Modi has his hands full fighting opposition parties in the five state elections. Passing an ordinance and then dealing with the nationwide protests it will lead to, will be a distraction. The election will become a referendum on lawlessness. Result would be loss of single- party majority.
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