On Tuesday, the Union government petitioned the Supreme Court in order to allow it to return the land around the disputed site on which the Babri Masjid stood to its owners. The petition asked for the control of the land to be given to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a trust created by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to build a Ram temple at the disputed site. This development has taken place even as the legal dispute over the contested site is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Firstly, the appeal of the Union government to transfer control of the land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas is in bad faith when it comes to the law. The land around the Babri Masjid was acquired by the Uttar Pradesh state government in 1989 in order to build a Ramkatha park. To execute this, most of this land was then leased to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. This land was, in turn, acquired by the Union government after the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas does not own the land nor is there any rationale for the government to build a temple on that land. Moreover, since the land around the disputed site was acquired to prevent communal violence, it makes little sense to talk of restoring it before the legal dispute has been resolved.

More crucially, however, the move is bad politics, and is an obvious effort to communalise the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The move to acquire land around the disputed site seems to be an attempt by the Modi government to move forward – or at least give an appearance of movement – on the temple issue even when the actual legal case is still underway in the Supreme Court. This point was, in fact, made by a Bharatiya Janata Party MP, who claimed on Tuesday that the construction of a temple will begin before the legal case is concluded.

This is not the only example of the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar attempting to introduce the Ram temple as an issue in the elections. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have demanded an ordinance that would bypass the courts and begin construction of the temple. The Sangh Parivar has also tried to build pressure using public demonstrations. In a television show aired on Saturday, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister claimed that his government would resolve the issue within 24 hours if the Supreme Court is unable to deliver a judgement soon.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself declared that his government would not bring in a law or ordinance to bypass the legal process. “After the judicial process is over, whatever will be our responsibility as the government, we are ready to make all efforts,” said Modi on January 1. However, belying the prime minister’s promise, the Union government’s petition to transfer land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas is an attempt to stoke communal passions as the onus would once again be put on the Court for turning down the demand, as is likely to be the case. It is unfortunate that the 2019 Lok Sabha election – crucial for the country’s future – is being fought by stoking atavistic communal passions rather than by pushing issues that truly matter for India’s development.