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As Temple Talk Goes Silent in Ayodhya, BJP Dials up Nationalism to Counter Caste Chemistry

As Ram Mandir is not the flavour of the election season both for BJP and the RSS, willingly or unwillingly, the pioneers of the temple movement have taken a retreat for the moment.

Pranshu Mishra | CNN-News18

Updated:May 2, 2019, 11:20 AM IST
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As Temple Talk Goes Silent in Ayodhya, BJP Dials up Nationalism to Counter Caste Chemistry
Prime Minister kept away from the temple town, despite him addressing an electoral rally in neighbouring Ambedkar Nagar Lok Sabha constituency. (PTI)

Ayodhya: “Yeh Ram Lala ke prastavit Mandir ka Model hai..Jab kaam shuru hoga to aisa hi Mandir Banega. (This is the proposed model of the Ram temple, when the actual construction work will start, it will be a temple exactly like this).”

A local lad turned guide could be heard briefing a group of devotees from Gujarat on a hot Monday afternoon at the VHP-owned Mandir Karyashala (workshop) as temperatures soared to above 40 degree centigrade.

But even as the workshop and the temple model placed there continues to be a “must visit” place for devotees coming from across the country, those who were till recently threatening to launch a do-or-die battle, demanding an immediate ordinance for construction of Ram temple, have surprisingly gone silent.

So in this election season, neither the Ram temple nor Ayodhya is a political issue. Both the BJP and the RSS have moved on to nationalism.

The temple town of Ayodhya is part of the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency. The district of Faizabad has seized to exist, after it was recently renamed as Ayodhya by the Yogi Adityanath government of the state.

So while Ayodhya has seen a geographical expansion as it is a district now, the parliamentary constituency is still “Faizabad”. News18 visited the constituency to find if Ram Temple still is an issue in the ongoing electoral battle. Faizabad goes to poll on May 6.

With five assembly constituencies of Dariyabad, Rudauli, Milkipur, Bikapur and Ayodhya, the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat has not been a BJP bastion as many would expect. The constituency has delivered different mandates in general elections over the decades.

While presently the constituency is held by BJP’s Lallu Singh, in 2009 it was with the Congress and in 2004 with the BSP. In fact, Faizabad had sprung a surprise as early as 1991, when during the height of temple movement, the seat had gone to Mitrasen Yadav of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

But an interesting aspect of the Left’s victory in 1991 or Samajwadi Party’s victory in 1999 and then BSP’S victory in 2004 was that it was the same candidate Mitrasen Yadav each time. Mitrasen’s personal clout in the region coupled with the caste chemistry was successful in countering BJP’s Hindutva politics.

This time around, following Mitrasen’s death, it’s his son Anandsen Yadav who is the alliance candidate from Faizabad. While Lallu Singh is re-contesting on BJP’s ticket, Congress has fielded former MP Nirmal Khatri.

From a demographic perspective, the alliance seems to be on a firm footing here. Yadavs constitute around 13% of the total voters - almost half of the total OBC voters in the constituency. Muslims constitute around 15% and dalit chamar voters are around 4%. Upper caste Hindu voters are around 29%.

From the caste angle, the BJP will eye the upper caste segment along and hope to make the maximum possible dent in the remaining around 13 percent of the other dalit caste voters – non-Yadav OBCs and around 10% of the most backward caste voters.

Congress, however, hopes that caste calculations will fail in front of candidate’s own image and the party’s promises under the NYAY scheme.

“I have no caste. I won in 2009 because people went for larger national interest and Congress government’s good work. This time again they will vote for the Congress, to end misrule of Modi Government,” Khatri told News18.

On question of BJP going silent on Ram Mandir, Khatri said, “BJP has always used the name of Lord Ram for political gains. They did nothing on temple front, during their government, therefore they are not talking about it now.”

BJP’s Lallu Singh has no qualms in admitting that Mandir is not the issue of the moment. On the campaign trail, when News18 caught up with him, he said “Nationalism and national security is the single most important issue for us. If Nationalism will survive only then vikas will survive and temple will be built.”

A visit to the constituency gives a sense of a certain degree of annoyance towards the incumbent MP, but some of them were still in a mood to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a chance.

The party and its candidate, too, realise this as Singh in his campaign has talked little about his own achievements and focused more on garnering votes in the names of the PM.

“People will vote to make Modi the Prime Minister again,” he told News18. No surprise then, the slogan on his car also says “Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar”. Clearly, the party hopes nationalism and Brand Modi can supercede caste chemistry.

Probably it was this realisation that Ram temple issue can no longer fight against the caste consolidation that also kept Prime Minister away from the temple town, despite him addressing an electoral rally in neighbouring Ambedkar Nagar Lok Sabha constituency some 25 km away from Ayodhya town on Wednesday, May 1.

He also chose not to mention even a single word about the Ram temple-Babri Masjid issue. He, however, concluded his speech by chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.

Mahant Parahamhans Das of Tapasvi Chavni, who was jailed for threatening to immolate himself if Modi government doesn’t bring an ordinance on Ram temple, said the reason why BJP is not talking of Mandir now is that it wants to avoid uncomfortable questions.

“The moment they talk of Mandir, people will ask what they did for it and why no ordinance was brought for its construction.”

When VHP’s national vice-president Champat Rai was questioned as to why temple was no longer a poll issue for him, even though the Dharma

Sabha held last year in Ayodhya had passed a resolution for an ordinance, he tried to evade the question.

“Mandir is never off our agenda, but at the moment we all are focused for return of a nationalist government. Temple will be built only if Nationalism survives,” he said.

As Ram Mandir is not the flavour of the election season both for BJP and the RSS, willingly or unwillingly, the pioneers of the temple movement have taken a retreat for the moment.

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| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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