On Saturday, the Supreme Court decided on the Ayodhya dispute, ruling that a Ram temple will come up on the disputed spot where, till 1992, the Babri Masjid stood.
The judgment is hugely significant, revolving around an intersection of faith and politics that has gripped and driven India for the past three decades.
Now that the legal dispute is over, what does this point of inflection mean for Indian politics going forward? Here are some ways in which this could play out in the political sphere in the future.
Completes Hindu nationalism’s ascent as India’s ruling ideology
Hindu nationalism was a fringe ideology as India gained independence in 1947. In the first few decades after 1947, the principle Hindu nationalist party, the Jana Sangh, had a minor presence and was restricted only to a few states. In fact, in the Lok Sabha elections held in 1984, the Bharatiya Janata Party – a descendant of the Jana Sangh – won only two seats in the Lok Sabha.
The Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s changed this abruptly, pushing Hindutva centre stage. At the time, the movement received wide political support from the Congress (which batted to start Hindu worship at the mosque) to the ascendant BJP, which led a militant movement to demolish the Babri Masjid itself.
Since then, Hindutva has captured many arms of the Indian state: strict anti-beef laws, anti-conversion laws and a complete negation of secularism as a building block of the Indian Union.
Now that the Supreme Court itself has passed a judgment that ratifies the main aim of the Ramjanmabhoomi judgment, the ascent of Hindu nationalism is complete. To understand just how closely religion and state are now fused, the court has ordered that the temple will be built not by a private organisation but by a trust set up by the Modi government itself. “The court seems to have weighed religious belief over the rule of law,” argues legal scholar Faizan Mustafa.
What was once a fringe ideology that needed a militant mass movement to be heard in the corridors of power now defines the common sense of India. In effect, the BJP’s stated goal of building a Hindu Rashtra or state is within striking distance.
Enables BJP hegemony
Concomitant with the rise of Hindutva has been the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the Congress actually kicked off the Ramjnamabhoomi movement in 1986, by supporting the court decision to open the locks of the Babri Masjid and allowing Hindus to worship, it was soon overshadowed by the BJP, which ran a mass movement to demolish the mosque and build a temple in its place.
In 2014, only two decades after the mosque had been demolished, the BJP won a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. The arrival of a full-majority BJP government in New Delhi was accompanied by the judiciary breaking its slow pace on the matter and commencing hearings every day – a point that the party made sure to take credit for. “It is a matter of great satisfaction for us that Lord Ram’s temple issue has been resolved during the NDA government led by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi,” said the BJP’s working president, JP Nadda, on the verdict.
The BJP now has far more than a majority in the Lok Sabha – it moulds India ideologically with a magnitude of influence that can maybe only compared to the mind-space the Congress occupied in 1947. “Whenever the history of the country will be re-written, this tenure of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre will be written in golden letters,” Nadda said, aware of what this judgment means for his party’s hegemony.
Cements Muslim marginalisation
Given that Hindu nationalism has built itself by positioning itself against Muslims, the corollary to the rise of Hindutva will, of course, be the continued marginalisation of Muslims. The 2014 Lok Sabha, for example, had the lowest proportion of Muslims since 1951. On socio-economic indicators, the data shows that Muslims are worse off even compared to Dalits.
To the de facto signs of exclusion are now added de jure indicators: for example, now by law, only Muslim men are to be penalised for abandoning their wives.
This judgment now makes it clear that Muslims have little recourse to law for the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Unsurprisingly, the Sunni Wafq board has decided it will not review the Saturday judgment.
Allows Modi government a breather from the economy
“Perhaps no need for the common man to ask for bread. He is getting Sikkim,” journalist BG Verghese had written sarcastically, commenting on the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s contentious annexation of Sikkim in 1975.
This dynamic is at play in 2019, as the BJP will hope that the building of a temple will take attention away from India’s economic slowdown and poor human development parameters.
In this, the BJP will be helped by the Supreme Court’s surprising decision to get the Modi government to set up a trust to build the temple. A significant amount of messaging around the BJP’s role in building the temple can be expected in the next few years,
Opens up the BJP’s core agenda
The fact that the principal aim of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement – a temple on the spot of the Babri Masjid – has now received the imprimatur of the Supreme Court itself allows the BJP to move ahead on each of its Hindu nationalist goals that were, till now, outside the realm of the possible in Indian politics.
After the judgment was out, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday spoke on the need for abolishing Muslim personal law. Other moves could be the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which brings in a religious preference in India’s citizenship laws, the National Register of Citizens, which would examine citizenship of Muslims, a law banning conversions or even a federal law to ban beef. With all barricades – electoral and legal – dropped, the BJP has the freedom to pick and choose what it wants to implement next.
Other mosques on the radar
Ayodhya is not the only one: according to Hindutva ideologues, there are a numbers of mosques built allegedly on temples. In a book by Sita Ram Goel and Arun Shourie, this number runs into the thousands.
On Saturday, however, neither the BJP nor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh made any mention of targetting other mosques.
However, post the verdict, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad made it clear that when it comes to mosques to Varanasi and Mathura, the “Supreme Court judgement is not the end of the story, it is the beginning”.
More than any other organisation, it is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a part of the larger Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s network that led the agitation to demolish the Babri masjid and build in its place a temple. In fact, the legal suit of the Hindu god Ram has been argued in court by people with close links to the VHP.
While it may be unlikely that the BJP will give the go ahead for more temple movements immediately, given the precedent the Supreme Court has set on Saturday, this is always a political card for the saffron party to play if it is ever in the need for one.