The RSS has welcomed the resolution of the contentious Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case with ‘utsah’ (enthusiasm), rather than ‘vijayi bhav’ (triumphalism). More than the Supreme Court judgment itself, the RSS-BJP victory lies in the fact that the issue has been resolved within the parameters of the Constitution and has been received with equanimity.
The level-headed approach of the RSS has contributed to public composure. The low-key, albeit gratified, responses from the BJP and RSS are in keeping with the ‘sanyyam’ (restraint) strategy first discussed in September at the Sangh's Pushkar meeting. The top brass made it clear that win or lose, its cadre must keep their cool.
That message was publicly disseminated after the October 30-31 meeting at Dhyan Sadhna Kendra in Delhi's Chhatarpur. RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat declared at a subsequent public meeting that a favourable verdict in the Ayodhya case should not be seen in terms of victory or defeat. He reiterated that stance after the judgment was delivered.
For good measure, the RSS cancelled a meeting planned for the first week of November in Haridwar and cleared its calendar for the rest of the month, in anticipation of the verdict. Fewer the events held, the easier it would be to keep the peace. Although the threat of hotheads could not be entirely ruled out, it could be minimised.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which mobilised public support for the Ram Temple in the 1980s and 90s, accepted Bhagwat's strategy. A year ago, after the apex court had postponed the Ayodhya hearings, the VHP contemplated large-scale public mobilisation (as it had done before the demolition of the Babri Masjid). To that end, it organised a big rally in Delhi.
In October 2018, Bhagwat himself proposed that the government pass a law to enable the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Attempts to delay the Ayodhya hearings, he said, were beginning “to test the patience of the society”. Until that point, he had consistently advocated a judicial resolution to the dispute.
The fact that Bhagwat and the VHP backed off and agreed to wait for the apex court's decision may be testimony to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's persuasive skills. The RSS may have accepted the argument that the legislative option could be revived if the need arose.
One consequence of Bhagwat's patience was that the issue barely figured in the campaign for Lok Sabha elections this year. His decision to await the judgment of the five-judge bench has been vindicated, as was Modi's decision to campaign on a nationalistic rather than a Hindutva platform.
The brief speeches on the SC judgment by Bhagwat and Modi are directed at an international audience, not just a domestic one. Outbreaks of violence, over-the-top celebrations and 'Ram bhakts' on a rampage could only have invited global censure.
The conscious attempts at global outreach by the RSS in the last 18 months would have suffered a setback. Having diluted its hard Right stance, the RSS has no desire to be seen as a militantly Hindu organisation, a compulsion that explains why it studiously avoided questions on whether it would now lay claim to the Shahi Idgah in Mathura and the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. For the moment, if talk in RSS circles is to be believed, it's off the table.
The PM summed up the RSS-BJP approach when he observed that “the world accepts India as the largest democracy ... today it has seen that is the most vital and strong democracy”. Reading between the lines of his allegorical reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was presenting the verdict as a turning point in terms of communal harmony.
If there was a cherry on top of the pie, it was the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor — in effect, a zone of peace between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India — on the very day that the apex court cleared the decks for an elaborate temple on the ground where a masjid once stood.
The opposition deserves a share of credit in maintaining the peace. It adopted a “time to move on” attitude, with Priyanka Gandhi and others appealing for peace and unity, in the same vein as Bhagwat. The political class by and large appeared to be on the same page for once. Even in TV studios, sites of contentious argument, there was less bad blood and more learned discourses on the law.
In sum, the RSS could not have hoped for a better outcome. As PM Modi emphasised, it was a difficult, long-pending issue, which had been “resolved within the Constitution”.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)