BJP has reiterated its commitment to the trinity of Hindutva issues — construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, promulgation of uniform civil code and repeal of Constitution’s Article 370 which guarantees special status for Jammu and Kashmir.
While it invited angry reactions from opponents who charged that the saffron party had not changed its “communal” stripes, the BJP appears to have scaled down the emphasis on construction of Ram temple — the theme which fueled the party’s march to the centrestage from the margins.
The contentious issue figures under the “cultural heritage” section on the second last page of its 42-page manifesto. “The BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya,” the manifesto said.
The reference appears to be a watered down version of the manner in which the party had approached the issue earlier. In 1998, the party chose to deal with it under the head “cultural nationalism” and as an extension of its Hindutva whose evolution was described as the antidote to the creation of vote banks, and which had the potential to “trigger a higher degree of patriotism”.
“It is with such integrative ideas in mind, the BJP joined the Ram Janmabhoomi movement for the construction of Shri Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. This greatest mass movement in post-independence history reoriented the disoriented polity in India and strengthened the foundation of cultural nationalism,” the 1998 manifesto said.
The document went on to say that Shri Ram “lies at the core of Indian consciousness” as the party repeated its commitment to “facilitate the construction of a magnificent Shri Ram Mandir at Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya where a makeshift temple already exists” and said it will use all “consensual, legal and constitutional means”.
While the party did not come out with a manifesto of its own in 1999, settling for NDA’s ‘Agenda of Governance’, the 2004 manifesto was more passionate about the temple.
“The BJP reaffirms its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. As Maryada Purushottam, Ram is an inspiring cultural symbol of India. His birthplace in Ayodhya is also associated with the religious sentiments of crores of Hindus. The BJP remains committed to its stand that the judiciary’s verdict in this matter should be accepted by all. However, we believe that dialogue, and a negotiated settlement in an atmosphere of mutual trust and goodwill, are the best way of achieving this goal. The BJP appeals to religious and social leaders of the Hindu and Muslim communities to speed up the process of dialogue and bring it to an amicable and early fruition,” said the 2004 manifesto prepared at a time when the party was seen as the frontrunner for the Lok Sabha polls.
In 2009 too, the party talked about the “overwhelming desire of the people in India and abroad to have a grand temple at the birth place of Sri Ram in Ayodhya”.
Viewed so, the reference to Ram temple in the party’s fresh offering may appear designed for Hindutva hardliners in Sangh Parivar and to be a buffer against the charge of “betrayal of the cause”.
On the issue of enactment of a uniform civil code — saffron shorthand for the criticism of “secular” governments for treating Muslim personal laws as sacrosanct and immutable — the party has continued with its effort to frame its advocacy as an issue of gender justice rather than as validation of its “appeasement of Muslims” charge.
Citing that the enactment of UCC features on the “to do” list Constitution lays down for governments, the document states, “BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a uniform civil code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a UCC, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonizing them with the modern times.”
The issue figures last in the manifesto.
With regard to Article 370 by which Jammu and Kashmir derives its special status, the party said it “will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article”.
The party has since its Jan Sangh days agitated against the article which, among other things, prevents people from other parts of the country from acquiring property in the Muslim-majority border state, but has pragmatically put it off until the day it gets sufficient numbers in both Houses of Parliament for amending the Constitution. During the NDA years, it gave in to pressure from allies to keep it off Vajpayee regime’s “wish list”.