On Tuesday, around the time Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma was inspecting the site for a proposed Ramayan Museum in Ayodhya, Vinay Katiyar, another Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian, hit out at the Narendra Modi government, calling its initiative to build the museum in the temple town a “lollipop”.
“We should be trying to build a Ram temple,” Katiyar told reporters in Delhi. “We won’t be happy with this lollipop.”
He added: “Wherever I go in Ayodhya, saints ask me when the Ram temple will be built. It is good that I didn’t go (to Ayodhya) today.”
Although Katiyar, a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha and a resident of Ayodhya, has been sidelined ever since Narendra Modi took centre stage in the party, his comments on the Ram temple issue cannot be brushed aside by the saffron outfit ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections since he was the face of the violent Ayodhya movement in the 1990s.
Katiyar was at the forefront of the Ayodhya movement since 1984, when the Bajrang Dal was formed as the militant youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad with the objective to mobilise Hindus for the construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site.
Katiyar’s stature in the Sangh Parivar grew further during the 1990s when the movement catapulted the BJP to power in Uttar Pradesh. Even during the following years, the BJP leadership used to consult him on every major issue related to the Ram temple and Ayodhya.
However, for the last three years, Katiyar has been living in total oblivion, completely cut off from the leadership. Not only was he kept out of the campaign during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the party went to the extent of fielding his arch rival, Lallu Singh, from Faizabad constituency, which Ayodhya is a part of.
“It would be stupid to pretend that everyone is happy in the party,” said a senior BJP leader, who is sidelined himself, and is considered to be sympathetic to Katiyar. “Katiyar could not have let this opportunity go. And why should he? On the one hand the party wants to revive the Ayodhya issue and on the other it is keeping Katiyar on the margins. There is a huge contradiction in it, and that is bound to come out in public.”
‘Ram temple for votes’
Mahesh Sharma’s trip to Ayodhya on Tuesday was expected to take forward the electoral plank that Narendra Modi set forth for the party on October 11 when he repeatedly shouted “Jai Shri Ram” – the central slogan of the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya movement – during his Dussehra speech in Lucknow.
Although Sharma insisted that the proposed museum – which will be built just 15 km from the disputed site – was not a political gimmick and was intended to boost tourism, the BJP could not hide the fact that it is desperate to rake up the Ram temple issue ahead of the Assembly elections in the state early next year.
“Ayodhya becomes active at the time of every election and then the BJP forgets it,” said Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the makeshift temple of Lord Ram at the disputed site in Ayodhya, over the phone. “This time the BJP is even more desperate to activate Ayodhya because Modiji has nothing to show to the people. He could not keep any of the promises he made during the Lok Sabha elections and doesn’t know how to face voters of UP.”
Moreover in Uttar Pradesh, there are several BJP leaders who are sulking and many who feel that what is being done in the run up to the state elections is much below their expectations. That is why the party has struggled to finalise a chief ministerial candidate, and that is also now coming in the way of the BJP’s bid to firm up a winnable poll plank for itself.