While bracing for the judgement, the government had estimated that it was not going to throw up a clear loser or an unambiguous winner, discounting the possibility that the judges would hand the disputed site to Hindus, giving the BJP and others in the Sangh Parivar a bagful of brownie points and an opportunity to reduce the demolition stigma.
Post-verdict, however, it is recognised that the verdict, despite the court asking for a three-way split of the disputed land among Ram Lalla, Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board, the verdict marks a clear win for the mandir partisans.
The Congress also has to cope with the risk of any adverse political fallout. Its chief worry is about how the order is going to play out among the Muslim community. It is hoping that the saffron excitement over the verdict will fade soon.
It is particularly wary of the possibility of “secular” rivals like Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and, to a lesser extent, Ramvilas Paswan, who seized on the demolition of Babri Masjid on Congress’s watch to poach the party’s sprawling Muslim base in the north, exploiting the ruling to their advantage.
By virtue of the fact that the Congress is in government at the time of the verdict — which the Sangh Parivar may cite as post facto justification for the Babri demolition on December 6, 1992 — makes the party vulnerable to swipes from the Yadav chieftains and Paswan that it’s soft on Hindutva. The party suspects that Lalu-Paswan duo will pounce upon the verdict to revive memories of Congress’s “betrayal” in 1992 and contrast it with their “muscular secularism”.
The puzzlement over the verdict and worry about its fallout was evident, according to sources, in the deliberations Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held to review the situation. In a statement, PM tried to play down the pro-temple dimension of the judgement, saying that it “needed to be examined carefully” and that it was not going to change the situation at the disputed site.”
“The High Court itself has directed that the status quo as prevailing till date shall be maintained for a period of three months. Besides, the High Court has granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Singh said. “By three separate orders, the Honourable Judges have given their findings on each of these issues and, in the operative part moulded the reliefs to the parties in a particular manner. The correct conclusion, at this stage, is that the status quo will be maintained until the cases are taken up by the Supreme Court.”
The statement was far more nuanced than Congress’s initial response articulated by spokesman Janardan Dwivedi. Unlike the PM, the party general secretary had welcomed the verdict, even suggesting that it should be accepted.
BJP was also surprised, though pleasantly so. The party had not foreseen a verdict in favour of the temple. RSS chief Mohan Bagwat sounded confident when he discussed the issue with BJP and Parivar affiliates in the Capital on September 15-16, but those tracking the case did not share his optimism.
The meeting of the core group interpreted the court order as a “an outright ideological victory and a defeat for pseudo secularists, an emphatic win for the temple and 75-80% win in the fight for the site.”
The development is a major boost for the party, which will pounce upon the verdict to try to seek validation for its Ayodhya campaign which was cited by rivals to paint the saffronites as out-dated. The image correction has already begun, with party spokespersons seeking to turn the tables on those expressing reservations about the verdict.
The Parivar presented a picture of sweet reasonableness, invoking reconciliation, national unity and adherence to rule of law — a completely new projection on the part of those who have so far passionately argued that the site of the Ram temple, being a matter of faith, was beyond judicial scrutiny.
The verdict and the attendant publicity has revived the temple issue, but with a difference. This time it is the Mandir advocates who can claim to be on the right side of the law.
But there is the recognition that while the order can help them score points in the gabfests in TV studios, it may not necessarily tilt the political balance in its favour. The decision to moderate the rhetoric and the appeals for national reconciliation also reflected the acknowledgement that triumphalism may not pay. It is felt that few will want a throwback to the tumultuous ’90s and that the party needs to broaden its appeal. The verdict, in fact, may help the Parivar to rein in the hotheads.