Indeed, a bit of bravado marked one of the remarks made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his monthly radio address Mann Ki Baat on Sunday, November 25. This relates to, as per him, with the irrelevance of whether his being (or continuing) at the helm or not in future, given India’s eternal longevity in any case which was also pointed out and affirmed by him. Yet, it brought a hint to what many may think to be his indispensability for the top office of the country. This is more so because of his strong presence, rather stamp, marking the public arena and discourse for over four years now, or since 2014 to be precise.
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And as he brought this only a few months before he would try his luck for another term in office, it also points to the big stakes that are clearly impending both for him and the country with the next year’s polls looming large over the horizon. Thus, the events unfolding right now and that may unravel hereafter, or in near future, assume great significance despite Modi’s assertion that he keeps politics off from his Mann Ki Baat series of address to the nation.
The course that will define the future of over billion people in India. So, irrespective of what he said or left unsaid, it is a fact that both Modi and the country are now at the crossroads of history and any turn that he takes is going to be crucial to define the course for the future of over a billion people.
Somehow, the day he delivered his latest radio talk, the 50th edition, an experiment to turn history into histrionics was on at Ayodhya over an issue that is before the highest court of the land awaiting a decision as per its wisdom, discretion and its virtual right to be an arbitrator of sorts in case of not only Ayodhya but so many disputes that come before its learned judges.
But the fact that those marshalling or herding crowds to Ayodhya are no strangers to either the prime minister or his most Cabinet colleagues points to an intriguing situation where an attempt is clearly being made to virtually put both the Supreme Court and the Government on notice. And this is so when the top court has decided to take some more time before it hears a few appeals now bunched together in the Ayodhya case and which were moved before it by rival parties.
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Colossal failure of both religious and political leaderships
The crowds gathered at Ayodhya on Sunday were meant to give vent to anger over the delay by the court in deciding the appeals related to the title of the land whose historicity has for long been tried to be decided on streets as well inflicting not only loss of lives and property but also often causing a blow to laws, rules and norms.
And as a result of this, a 16th century mosque was reduced to rubbles about 26 years ago from now. Even before that, the mosque and the land where it once stood as also the claims of thereupon having been a temple before the mosque came into being the controversial spot at Ayodhya signifies deep fissures and breaches that the time has not been able to fill so far.
Thus, this speaks of a colossal failure of both religious and political leaderships of not only the day but also since times bygone. The more the fault-lines of history etched by Ayodhya dispute turn one leader after the other inconsequential, the more zealously the issue of Ayodhya is whipped up by both the religious zealots and their supposedly ungodly and neutral counterparts for the purpose of running the state which is called modern nation-state with its other accompanying and logical attributes like a non-partisan approach to religion, caste and creed.
But since the late 1980s and whenever the turn to elect a new leader comes, the Ayodhya dispute is brought back to discussion through media hype and amid fears of peace getting vitiated. This being the case for long, a fatigue of sorts has been setting in and the people have perhaps been getting tired of hearing about the Ayodhya dispute during or before every election. And this time it appears to be no exception to this trend though poll dates are yet to be set.
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The test facing Modi
Thus, among others, Modi mainly faces a test of sorts where the onus is on him to stay the way he has been through the run-up to the last general elections held over four-and-half years ago. As one would remember the BJP manifesto released before the last polls had underplayed the temple issue at Ayodhya. In fact, it was included at the last moment mildly by the drafting committee headed by the party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. And it is a fact that Modi had won the 2014 polls without using the Mandir card unlike the two previous polls when Congress along with other parties could win despite BJP’s outcry over temple.
Not only this but through most of the current term of the Central Government also little was heard of the Ayodhya issue except that in past couple of months or so a build up around temple is being thought to be ideal to keep the Hindutva push on under whose shadow Modi had first successively won Assembly polls in Gujarat and came to power at the Centre before the atmosphere brought by the Ayodhya dispute could really be lifted.
The Ayodhya temple temptation
So, toying with the Ayodhya card this time comes as no surprise. Yet, the size of the crowds gathered at Ayodhya on November 25 was smaller than what was expected to be by the protagonists of the Mandir stir. This creates doubts about the likely fallout or outcome of the Ayodhya card this time.
Amid such a scenario, Modi could not refrain himself from bringing in Ayodhya in his election speech at Alwar in Rajasthan. This was on a day when his Mann Ki Baat address was also broadcast, a couple of weeks before December 7 Assembly poll in Rajasthan.
Modi blamed the rival Congress party at Alwar for the delay in hearing of the Ayodhya case by the Supreme Court though the Congress maintains that the party has not gone to the court as is the case also with the BJP. The difference is that only some of the lawyers, who have been in the higher rungs of the Congress, have been pleading the case of one side in the dispute. And this cuts across to the BJP as some of the lawyers representing the other side are also sympathetic or have links with the BJP.
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As the vexed issue drags on in the apex court now the votaries of the temple are trying to shift focus to it with an eye on 2019 general elections. Since Modi is going to be the centrepiece in this, he is being tempted to try out the Ayodhya issue to make it easier for him to romp home. Ignoring past precedents, the advocates of the temple want Modi to bring a law possibly in the winter session of Parliament, beginning December 11, a day when the results of five Assembly polls would be out.
How Modi treads through such a muddle being created around the temple issue will not only test his mettle but also that of the law which he is supposed and constitutionally bounden to uphold in a way that it withstands the scrutiny and test of the Supreme Court. And, thus, only the days to come will differentiate between the gullible and not-so-gullible, between sentiments and reason and between what is lawful and what is not.