Over the last week, after the Super Court delayed the hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit to January, a steady chorus has built up within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the Sangh Parivar. Even before the matter came up for hearing on October 29, a number of saffron outfits had demanded an ordinance to push through the construction of a Ram temple.
Later, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav said that the Supreme Court’s “dilly-dallying” had led to “certain consequence” and had made “Hindu society” and supporters of the Ram temple anxious. He noted that there had also been judicial delays in 1992, when the party’s supporters had broken through police cordons to demolish the Babri Masjid on a bloody December afternoon. Then, former BJP member of Parliament and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ram Vilas Vedanti spoke of a temple in Ayodhya being built through public consensus, and a mosque in Lucknow, even adding confidently that temple construction would start in December. Adding her voice to the clamour, Union Minister Uma Bharti said that talk of building a mosque close to the proposed Ram temple would make Hindus intolerant. Anyway, it was not a religious dispute anymore, merely a land dispute, said Bharti, who was one of the leaders cheering on the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Slowly but inexorably, the BJP and its allies in the Hindu Right have attempted to change the terms of the discourse on the Ram temple. It is no longer a question of whether the temple should be built on the site of the destroyed mosque but when. Even if the court delays a decision on the matter, they suggest, public opinion had already given its verdict in favour of a temple. This is dangerous rhetoric, putting undue pressure on the court. Any judicial verdict that does not align with it would then be deemed to have fallen short of public expectations. Given the history of the Babri Masjid demolition and its bloody aftermath, a gap between judicial reasoning and public opinion, as fashioned by the Hindu Right, could give rise to violence once again.
It is, perhaps, futile to expect the BJP not to advocate for a Ram Temple, especially in an election year. Along with the abrogation of Article 370 and the establishment of a uniform civil code, it has been part of the party’s core agenda. The Liberhan Commission report, whose contents were revealed in 2009, named 68 people as responsible for the demolition, mostly BJP leaders who had found their way into the highest levels of government. Some leaders who were implicated, such as former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, distanced themselves from the excesses of the fringe once in office in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But others, like Bharti, now wear their culpability like a badge of honour. In the two-and-a-half decades since the demolition, Indian politics has shifted so far right that the normalisation of majoritarian violence seems complete. But the least that members of the ruling party could do is refrain from undermining the court. As a party seeking votes for re-election, it may be tempted to raise an emotive issue, but as a party in government, it has a vital duty to keep the peace.