Modi is right, Congress should not link Ram Mandir to politics. But neither should he
As the party that owes its political potency to the Mandir din, the BJP seems rattled at INC 'encroaching on its territory'.
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Irony died a thousand deaths in Gujarat on December 6, when, during a poll rally at Dhandhuka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of linking “Ram Mandir with politics”.
“Kapil Sibal, a Congress MP, argued in Supreme Court yesterday in the Babri Masjid case. He can argue in court, which is his right, but is it right for him to say postpone hearing till 2019? Why is he linking elections with Ram Mandir. Now, the Congress is linking Ram Mandir with politics,” the PM said.
The mind, it boggles. What exactly has the PM taken offence to? That the Congress is encroaching into the BJP’s territory, and "politicising the temple" is his party’s sole prerogative?
Kapil Sibal, in his capacity as a lawyer, has argued that the Ayodhya dispute be heard after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Photo: India Today/File
We can point out that the BJP built its political fortunes on the rubble of the Babri Masjid, which it helped raze. But we need not go that far back.
We can cite that the Ram temple has consistently been part of the BJP’s poll manifesto, including in the 2014 elections, supposedly fought on vikas and anti-corruption planks. But we don’t need to go even that far.
Matter is sub-judice
On the very day that the PM aired his grievance with the Congress, his able lieutenant and BJP chief Amit Shah, also in Gujarat, demanded that soon-to-be Congress president Rahul Gandhi “clears his stand” on the Ram temple issue.
Why should Rahul Gandhi, or any leader, “clear his stand” on an issue that is sub-judice with the Supreme Court? The apex court has been hearing the Ayodhya matter, and it is the only body that should take a call on the Ram Mandir and the demolition of the Babri Masjid case.
The BJP, however, doesn’t seem to have much patience with such legal protocols. In the same rally, Shah went on to proclaim his party’s stand on the issue loud and clear.
"The BJP demands that the case should be heard as soon as possible. The Supreme Court should give a judgment and a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya,” Shah said. Is the BJP chief here trying to tell the Supreme Court – the highest judicial body in the country – what to do?
Is saying that "Gandhi has not spelled out his stand on the Ram temple, whereas the BJP has made its position crystal clear" - not politicising the issue? Also, if Congress has not spoken about the Ram temple, how has it politicised the issue?
Shah’s and the PM’s comments were reactions to what Kapil Sibal had demanded in court – that the hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute be postponed till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, for fear of the case’s political implications. Modi and Shah rebuked Sibal for "representing the Sunni Waqf Board" and therefore politicising the issue.
While the Congress leader said he does not represent the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court and "clarified" that he was the lawyer for Iqbal Ansari, the son of late Hashim Ansari, a co-petitioner in the lawsuit over the title to the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site, this is hardly relevant to the actual politics at play here.
#WATCH: "PM did not check the fact that actually I never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court and yet he thanked them, request PM to be a little more careful before making such public comments" says Kapil Sibal #Ayodhya pic.twitter.com/Yj0bPrmha0— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2017
Moreover, Sibal was acting as a lawyer, and not as a Congress leader. The PM took up what he said inside the court as fodder for a political rally, and linked the statement to the political party Sibal represents. Was this not politicisation of the issue?
The BJP had put the construction of the Ram Mandir in its manifesto for the 2014 elections, supposedly fought on the development plank.
Old chants, new elections
The BJP is understandably possessive about the Ram temple-Babri masjid matter. Shorn of Hindutva, there is very little the party has to boldly stand on, and the Babri masjid remains the pièce de résistance of its struggle of legitimising the divisive, supremacist politics of Hindutva.
From winning two seats in the 1984 general election, the party went up to 85 seats in 1989. The success can be attributed in a large part to its adroit exploitation of the Congress’s “minority appeasement”. In its resolution at the National Executive in Palampur in June 1989, the BJP had formally taken up Hindutva as its political doctrine, and spoken about building a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Its election manifesto of 1989 says: “By negativing the Supreme Court judgment in the Shahabano case, the government has put a premium on communalism and obscurantism. And by recognising Urdu as second official language in Uttar Pradesh on election eve, it has shown more interest in Muslim votes than in Urdu language. In the process it has only given the country so many corpses. By not allowing the rebuilding of the Ram Janma Mandir in Ayodhya, on the lines of Somnath Mandir built by the Government of India in 1948, it has allowed tensions to rise, and gravely strained social harmony.”
L K Advani’s rath yatra in 1990 swept the BJP into Parliament with a sizeable 120 seats in the 1991 elections.
Congress temple run
Cut to 2017 Gujarat, and the temple supposedly to be built in Ayodhya is not the only one being politicised. Rahul Gandhi has been openly courting Hindu votes this time, visiting temples and hardly talking about the 2002 riots.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi offered prayers at Dwarkadhish Temple in Gujarat in September. Photo: India Today
There is nothing wrong with any politician, whether from the BJP or any other party, visiting temples, either as an act of personal faith or as a way to reach out to an electoral constituency. But the BJP has gone to town with Rahul’s newfound love for temples, to the extent that the Congress V-P’s religion has become an election issue in itself.
The Congress has fallen into the communal trap, asserting that Gandhi is a janeu-dhaari Hindu. While this is a failure of the Congress’ avowedly “secular" credentials, it seems to have made jittery a party that has made a career out of politicising temples.
BJP's interference in Ayodhya hearing
The PM can argue that Sibal is a Congress leader, and his actions even as a lawyer are likely to be influenced by his political leanings. He would be right. Ideally, no political party should have a say on how the Ayodhya case proceeds, and it should be left entirely to the court.
However, let us remember that it was BJP MP Subramanian Swamy who had argued for expediting the trial, because his “faith has been affected by not being able to pray at the site.” “A temple should be there. My right to pray is affected by the pending case and I had filed an intervening application,” Swamy had argued in the SC. The court rejected the plea in April this year, just as it rejected Sibal’s appeal for postponement on December 5.
Among the BJP leaders to criticise Sibal on Wednesday was Union minister of law and justice Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said: "As a lawyer, Kapil Sibal can argue any matter but he should not forget that he has been the law minister in the past." It's worthwhile to remember that Prasad was the lawyer for Ram lalla, represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, when the Ayodhya matter was being heard by the Allahabad high court.
The Prime Minister, on Wednesday, said while slamming Sibal, “Why does he have to link Ram Mandir with elections. Is this thinking proper?”
The "thinking" is indeed very improper. But can we expect the BJP to end the hypocrisy? Not even close.