Religion has always been an important factor in Indian elections, but it has now taken centre stage over the last four years as evidenced by the increasing polarisation among people belonging to different communities.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that it will not come under any kind of pressure in relation to cases like the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. In a four-minute long proceeding, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, ruled that the court will take up the Ayodhya case in January 2019. When pressed by the advocate for the government of Uttar Pradesh, Gogoi said, “We have our own priorities”, and moved on to the next case.
Understandably, this perfunctory adjournment has raised the hackles of the VHP and BJP, both members of the Sangh Parivar, which is considered to be the driving force behind the demand for a Ram temple at the disputed site. Notably, despite the matter being sub-judice, the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has recently made several statements about hastening the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
However, with the Supreme Court’s clear orders, one thing has become clear, country's top court is taking a mature and circumspect view of the matter given that elections are due in four states in November, and at least in three of these states, the Ayodhya issue, would, in any case, be exploited by political parties to derive political capital. Also, since the General elections are as of scheduled to be conducted in May 2019, the court knows that listing the case for hearings will give parties like BJP, and AIMIM an opportunity to polarise voters.
Religion has always been an important factor in Indian elections, but it has now taken centre stage as evidenced by the increasing polarisation among people belonging to different communities. The Ayodhya dispute has been exploited to the hilt since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the nation was in the thrall of both Hindu and Muslim hardliners. The thrall was eventually broken when months of bloody riots followed the Karsevaks’ demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, an event that permanently tore the social fabric of India. In the decade after the demolition, successive coalition governments at the Centre were formed and felled till the National Democratic Alliance took power under the leadership of BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998.
In 2002, religious fundamentalism again reared its ugly head in the form of massive riots in Gujarat following the burning of several Karsevaks in a coach of a train returning from Ayodhya. But barring this incident, India largely remained free of large-scale riots through 2002-2012. The 2014 elections were preceded by riots in several states.
In the last four years, we have not seen a big riot but a series of incidents of mob violence over cow-killing and beef-consumption, inter-caste marriages, ‘love-jihad’ and ‘anti-nationalism’ have vitiated public harmony and peace in several states of the country. In fact, certain sections of Indians belonging to oppressed classes and minority groups fear a growing and violent form of majoritarianism much more than ever.
By keeping the Ayodhya issue off the burner before the elections the apex court has taken a wise decision. One can only hope that political parties will quickly stop their false rhetoric of making the temple through an ordinance in Parliament as that route too remains blocked till the Supreme Court decides on the matter.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)