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Current Affairs ( 21 Oct 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Life beyond Ayodhya

By Ashok Malik

What does the Allahabad high court (HC) judgement in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri masjid title dispute case mean for the BJP? The Ayodhya issue has not quite been resolved. An appeal is certain to be filed before the Supreme Court and it will take perhaps two or three years for full and final closure. Nevertheless, what the Allahabad HC has done is put in place the rough framework for a settlement. A division of property between the principal litigants and an honourable compromise that will allow both a temple at the site of the sanctum sanctorum and a mosque in close vicinity are now non-negotiable.

How have the BJP and its extended family responded to the verdict? The VHP, as the principal arm of the Ayodhya movement, has taken a maximalist position. It has sought the entirety of the territory the 60 feet by 40 feet Mir Baqi used to build his shrine; the 2.77 acres that was the mandir-masjid complex; the 67 acres of land, much of it formerly owned by Hindu groups, acquired by the Union government two decades ago for a massive Ram temple. It has said a mosque can only be built outside this space, and indeed outside Ayodhya.

There are two interpretations of the VHP's demand. First, it could be playing hardball in the build-up to a Supreme Court battle. Second, it could be serious. If so, this would amount to monumental misreading of the public mood.

Mainstream opinion is glad a route had been found for both sides to walk away from hostility. Ordinary Hindu sentiment too has been assuaged. Yet, it is one thing to be happy at the idea of a Ram temple; it is quite another to want to build the temple after humiliating Muslims and virtually exiling them.

In this context, the argument by some intellectual proponents of the VHP that the building of a new mosque in Ayodhya would be comparable with the plan to construct Cordoba House, an Islamic religio-cultural centre, a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York is dangerous nonsense. It goes against the grain of the HC judgement. Most important, it completely ignores the imperatives of today's India.

To be fair, the response of the BJP has been relatively understated. Sections of the party have long recognised that the rendezvous with Ram is over, that Ayodhya is more of an albatross around the BJP's neck than a voter magnet. If the Allahabad HC's verdict is broadly ratified by the apex court, the process of moving on from Ayodhya can begin. The BJP would welcome this.

It is not as if the construction of a 'grand Ram temple' will galvanise 'core supporters' and lead to great electoral triumph. Frankly, the issue is scarcely a priority any more. However, the diminution of Ayodhya and, by extension, Hindutva as a calling card will force the BJP to seek alternative (perhaps complementary) philosophies around which to organise itself. The ideational upgrade of the Indian right, not attempted since the early 1990s, can no more be postponed.

It is crucial the BJP not mistake the response to the Ayodhya judgement and to its own sobriety as well as in parallel appreciation of its recent parliamentary performance as indicative of possible electoral success. The two are not related, and not even the UPA government's lacklustre performance will necessarily join them.

The compelling concern before the BJP is not so much the absence of power as the absence of influence. Political movements the New Right in America before the 1980 election; the BJP itself before coming to office in 1998 go through a period of acquiring influence, gaining traction with policy interventions and innovations, before converting these into critical votes and a seat in government. The BJP has completely ignored this aspect since its defeat in 2004. It has focussed instead on short-termism, individual and institutional, to somehow put together a coalition that will win power.

A microcosmic example of this can be found in Bihar, where the BJP has been a partner in government for five years and which it is likely to win again in a few weeks. In Patna, the BJP has power but not quite influence. The NDA government there is very much a Nitish Kumar/JD(U) government; there is no BJP stamp on it.

What then is the BJP stamp? At a time when Indian business is frustrated at the slackness of reform, when the populist, leftward tilt of the UPA government is beginning to cause concern, when foreign policy is going pretty much nowhere despite the promise of a new beginning following the nuclear deal two years ago, when the urban middle classes the building block of the BJP's constituency are looking for an option to a vacuous aam aadmi rhetoric (but certainly not seeking it in a strident Ram aadmi rhetoric), there is room for a right-of-centre party that enters the debate on the timid pace of economic change, on the sort of society India seeks to shape for the next 20 years, on India's role in the Asian century as it evolves.

These are big-picture issues on which the UPA is very vulnerable. Even so, it is not being effectively challenged. Post-Ram, what's the BJP's excuse?

The writer is a political commentator.

Source: The Times of India