All is suddenly quiet on the Ayodhya front. Believe it or not, the issue that helped the BJP come to power on the crest of a huge wave of popularity has suddenly been relegated to the sidelines. The party has said it will not use the mandir plank in the crucial assembly elections due in November this year in the four states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. Surprisingly enough, the shrill VHP camp, too, has followed suit and fallen silent.
Everyone in the Sangh parivar is speaking the same language. Forget the rath yatra and the mandir vahin banayenge slogans, the BJP now says Ayodhya has "never been" an election issue and the VHP seems to be quietly agreeing. The stoic strategists of Jhandewalan smile benevolently as the Sangh orchestra plays in harmony.
"Our national executive decided not to make it an election issue because we are being targeted for using this extremely emotional subject for political gains. We wish to genuinely build a temple and not prove a point to the people," says BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Astonishingly, this sentiment is echoed by the VHP headquarters. To erase all doubts, its general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore has issued a formal statement to that effect in Rajasthan. "I did issue a statement earlier this month that we will not discuss Ayodhya during elections in all the four states. It is not a political issue for us. The media keeps alleging that we have used it for political purposes. That is why we have decided to not publicly talk about it in all the four poll-bound states," he told Outlook.
Does that mean the VHP has dumped Ayodhya for the time being? No, says the VHP top brass. It is hoping that the asi's final Ayodhya excavation report will indicate the presence of a temple beneath the demolished Babri mosque. Till then, it wants to keep the issue on simmer. Senior VHP leader Vishnu Hari Dalmiya says the programme to "reawaken" common people on Ayodhya continues. "We are meeting in September to evolve further strategies on Ayodhya. But we haven't abandoned the programme. I can't say anything about the BJP. They are not serious about building the temple," he says.
It is, however, clear that the VHP wants to maintain some amount of confusion so that if the popular mood swings the temple way, Ayodhya can be drummed up again. It may be kowtowing to the BJP's line of 'No Ayodhya' right now, but it doesn't mean this strategy has universal approval. "If the BJP thinks the people of this country have lost interest in the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, they are sadly mistaken. The VHP and the sadhu samaj will prove them wrong. The BJP should not ignore Hindu sentiments," maintains VHP president Ashok Singhal.
Former UP chief minister (then with the BJP) and Rashtriya Kranti Party chief Kalyan Singh sums up the Sangh parivar's latest ploy: "The BJP wants votes and the VHP wants notes. But both of them now realise they are not getting any of it by talking about Ayodhya. If they knew that there were more dividends, do you think they would have decided to keep quiet? Obviously, Ayodhya is not so hot anymore and these people are strategising accordingly."
Kalyan heaps scorn on the Sangh. He accuses the BJP of "betraying" the temple cause. Says he: "They are completely shameless. In none of the mass movements in India's political history have leaders deserted their cadre. Gandhi and Nehru went to jail. So did JP. And look at these leaders. They have set up a separate court to try them in the Ayodhya demolition case, got serious criminal charges deleted while the kar sevaks and others still suffer. This is opportunism of the worst kind."
Opportunism or not, Ayodhya is definitely not a campaign card for the elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and DelhiFor all that, the BJP has a seemingly good hand. When it may draw this card again is anybody's guess.