Yogi's Ayodhya push reveals BJP's desire to draw on Hindutva vote

Last Updated: Sun, Oct 22, 2017 10:23 hrs
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and governor Ram Naik pose with artistes dressed up as Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and governor Ram Naik pose with artistes dressed up as Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman during Deepotsav celebrations in Ayodhya

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has big plans for Ayodhya; the much talked about and debated on city where a Ram temple could be built, being a long standing wish for the BJP. The saffron clad Yogi paid a pre-Diwali visit to the city to take part in festivities which could be a first step in achieving that long standing goal of the temple.

With much gumption, Yogi Adityanath was witness to a reenactment of the Ramlila; where Lord Ram and Sita triumphantly return home after their conquest over the evil Ravana. He stated that there was no politics behind his government’s intentions to develop Ayodhya, though it’s hard to square that with him specifically planning a trip along with his ministers to a town that’s polarized along religious lines; specifically before a widely celebrated Hindu holiday.

It was definitely a mix of Hindu mythology and politics; the kind that suits the Chief Minister in particular and the BJP as a whole in its pursuit of being identified and branded as a national Hindu party.

In a column for the Times of India, Sanjeev Singh writes on how the current Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister differs from his predecessor –

Lucknow may be the capital city of Uttar Pradesh but it seems to have been overshadowed by Ayodhya ever since the Yogi Adityanath led BJP government assumed power in March. Adityanath’s visit to Ayodhya on the eve of the festival of lights – Diwali – is a carefully constructed narrative of pushing Ram Rajya as his central theme for governance”.

In stark contrast, Adityanath’s predecessor Akhilesh Yadav had focused more on building the Gomti riverfront and the metro in Lucknow among others”.

Now Adityanath wants to become synonymous with Ayodhya, by installing a 100 metre tall statue and reviving the popular Ramlila. Adityanath and Akhilesh seem to be two sides of the same coin. One can only hope that this rivalry will spur infrastructural growth and result in promotion of UP on the Indian tourist map”.

Tourism seems to be the main pitch for the Chief Minister and his visit to Ayodhya, saying, “We are taking efforts so that Uttar Pradesh becomes tourism hub for India and the world. Ayodhya has taught the lesson on humanity to the world”. Erecting a 100 metre tall statue of Lord Rama situated not far from the controversial Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi area seems like a pointed move and an expensive venture using state money.

Ayodhya is an old cultural city seemingly stuck in a certain age, almost alien to modern day development. The Chief Minister has lofty plans to transform the city into a pilgrimage/tourism destination.

The calculation could be one where showcasing Ayodhya as a spiritual mecca of sorts; especially during important festivals will show the world a unique side of India. The image that Yogi Adityanath seems to have in his mind is one where Hindus from all over gather on important holidays to freely worship.

If his words didn’t catch the attention of the people, perhaps his clever use of imagery might have. Lighting lakhs of lamps set against the banks of a river with temples in the background lit up certainly conjures up a pretty image. While the defense offered up by Yogi Adityanath is admirable speaking of his faith as he is certainly devout, it does raise the question if there were ancillary benefits of such a celebration given the significance of the location and the grandness of the spectacle.

There are those who support the idea of Yogi Adityanath celebrating Diwali in Ayodhya looking at it from a religious point of view.

David Frawley, an American Hindu teacher, in a column for the right leaning Swarajya writes on the significance of Diwali in Ayodhya –

The aspiration for Rama Rajya that inspired the independence movement was derided and rejected by post-independence intellectuals and leaders who preferred to put their own images upon the country over that of Rama”.

Today, both in India as a whole and in Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is located – under the guidance of Narendra Modi at a national level and Yogi Adityanath at a state level – there is a new movement towards Rama Rajya, the rule of dharma and the honouring of Yoga”.

The Deccan Chronicle editorial did not take too kindly to the festivities stating the use of religious symbols in this particular instance was cynical –

There is a statement attributed to Lenin in Russia before the Bolshevik revolution, when the Czars held power - that the greater the number of churches, the worse the condition of the people. The meaning is quite clear: The rulers promoted church-building to divert the attention of the populace from life’s torments resulting from misrule”.

This is something for the people of Uttar Pradesh to think about too. With the state having been handed over to a Hindu monk-politician of the communal variety to administer, conditions of everyday life have deteriorated rapidly in the recent period. This has not stopped Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, personally, from foregrounding the mythology around Lord Rama and Ayodhya”.

Though some countries do have norms regarding separation of religion and politics, India is a country where both are intertwined and parties are emboldened to adopt a religious identity in their political campaigning. The answer that the Chief Minister gives in response to this is how can anyone i.e. the opposition, question or interfere with his personal faith. The Deccan Chronicle editorial points to this sentiment -

The state cannot be a part of religious activities in India. Praises of divinity in any form, through routes followed by devotees of any faith, must necessarily be the province of individuals and civil society entities, and not the government”.

The UP Chief Minister has disregarded this necessary attribute of our democracy. He has laid himself open to people of non-Hindu faiths pressing a demand to be shown the same consideration by the government. As a party, the BJP needs to reflect on the use of religious symbols for politics”.

Going forward, it’s clear that the BJP will make the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya part of its rhetoric as it did prior to the Uttar Pradesh elections where the BJP in its manifesto promised to look into all possible options within Constitution for building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Throughout the last decade, a stumbling block the party and its allies like the VHP had was not having a majority government at the Centre and in the state. This has now changed in their favor. The balancing act of sorts the BJP and the state government need to do is this; they cannot in any way proceed on the temple unless they a favorable verdict from the Supreme Court. They also need to ensure that their base support is happy, which means taking concrete steps toward that goal. All said and done, it looks like Ayodhya will be the epicenter of Hindutva politics even more so than it was in the past.

More columns by Varun Sukumar