Whichever way you slice and dice it, the Supreme Court’s split verdict on the Ram Mandir Babri Masjid Ayodhya land title case could transform both the arithmetic and chemistry of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Days before he retired as Chief Justice of India on October 2, Dipak Misra delivered a last-ball googly in a case that has divided India along religious lines for decades.
Politics and religion
Hearings in the Supreme Court begin on October 29. A new bench will be constituted. Chief justice Ranjan Gogoi will head the bench. The two other justices, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, who were on Misra’s bench that delivered a split 2-1 verdict on September 27, will by convention stay on the new bench.
With CJI Gogoi heading it, the outcome in the Ayodhya title suit is uncertain. There are three possible scenarios under which the matter will play out over the next few weeks and months.
First, timing. Will there be day-to-day hearings? The Misra-led bench had ordered fast-track hearings, and Gogoi will be honour-bound to respect the intent of that order, though, using his discretion as CJI, he may not.
The second scenario follows from the first. Assume the new Gogoi-led bench fast-tracks the Ayodhya land suit. A verdict upholding the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 order tri-furcating the 2.77- acre land between the Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the parties representing Ram Lalla will lead to the next stage: the right to pray in a Ram Mandir built on the disputed Ayodhya land.
This is where religion and politics form a combustible mix. The Congress has over the past year acquired a wardrobe of light-saffron. Rahul Gandhi knows that being perceived as the leader of a Muslim-leaning party offers diminishing returns. That explains the Congress’ strangulated silence over last week’s Ayodhya verdict, except to say, slightly superfluously, that the “court is Supreme.”
The Congress hopes to sit on the Ayodhya fence as long as it can, all the while hoping the case under the stewardship of CJI Gogoi will be delayed, in this third possible scenario, beyond May 2019. The BJP obviously hopes the land title suit will be decided by year-end and the right to build the Ram Mandir on the disputed Ayodhya land adjudicated shortly thereafter.
Both parties miss the point.
Irrespective of which way the title suit and the Ram Mandir case go, each will have much the same impact on the arithmetic and chemistry of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
If, firstly, the Supreme Court finds in favour of building the Ram Mandir on the disputed Ayodhya land, there will be a surge in Hindu sentiment for the BJP. Many moderate Hindus, too, will bend in the BJP’s electoral direction. In a tight general election, that spells bad news for the Congress-led Opposition.
Tsunami of anger
If, secondly, the Gogoi-led bench finds against the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, it will set off a tsunami of anger among right-wing Hindus, embittered by decades of pusillanimity by the courts and dilatory appeasement of Muslims by the Congress-Left Opposition. Moderate Hindus, too, will be disappointed. They will increasingly look at Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Hindu tilt as bogus. Some will drift rightwards, tipping a close general election away for the Opposition.
Thus, whichever way the Ayodhya verdict goes, it may be a win-win for the BJP and a lose-lose for the Congress. There is, of course, every possibility of a delay in the verdict beyond May 2019. The Congress believes this is the best outcome for it, as it navigates the tightrope between soft Hindutva and hard Islamophilia. That too is why its battery of senior party lawyers tried to intimidate former CJI Dipak Misra into delaying the verdict till he retired on October 2.
The press conference by four collegium Justices in January 2018, the media-led campaign to create outrage over the “suspicious” death of Judge BH Loya, and finally the move to impeach CJI Misra were part of this strategy to subvert justice. It failed. The Misra-led bench, despite enormous pressure, passed its Ayodhya order in the dying moments of the CJI’s tenure.
Playing both sides
The fact that a highly-charged hearing on the Ayodhya case will dominate the news cycle ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election would seem certain to help the BJP. But will it? The BJP shouldn’t take that for granted.
The Narendra Modi government will be judged on its five-year performance. Have achche din arrived for the common man? Has vikas changed lives in villages where 66 per cent of Indians live? The Modi government has some solid achievements to showcase: rural electrification, sanitation, universal health insurance, financial inclusion and banking reforms, among others.
But it has significant failures, too. In the fifth year of its term, it is still struggling to appoint a Lok Pal. A nine-member panel was constituted last week — four years after it should have been. Other institutional shortcomings abound. To win a second term, Modi would be wise to not rely on Lord Ram and focus on building a modern, open and plural society. That would be the best tribute to a Ram Mandir.
As for the Congress, its confused efforts to be all things to all people might end up alienating all people. Playing both sides rarely produces good outcomes.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)