There comes a time when a decision just cannot be avoided. On the construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya, that moment has come for the Government of Narendra Modi. No longer can it allow the matter to linger, citing either legalities or the lack of consensus. There is no scarcity of consensus among the majority of the Indian population in favour of the temple. As for legal niceties, all Governments are equipped with powers to constitutionally assume charge of issues in the larger national interest.
The movement for a Ram temple in Ayodhya is old, but it has gained momentum in recent weeks. The RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the various Hindu seers, even a few political parties, have all stepped up the campaign. Their patience has run dry, and with reason. For seventy decades since Independence, the matter has remained unresolved and has become a key cause of friction between the country’s two largest communities. For millions of Hindus across India and in the rest of the world, the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, where Lord Ram is said to have been born, is a matter of deep and enduring faith. But they have all waited, and waited, for a solution to the vexed dispute of ownership of the site where a mosque once stood and where a temple existed before the mosque came up during Mughal invader Babur’s reign. Now they are not willing to wait any longer.
The courts in India can quickly address minor matters like regulating fireworks on Diwali, but Ram Janmabhoomi, the most prominent court case in modern India, is still subject to delay after decades. Does any other judiciary in the world ignore or postpone such crucial cases? — David Frawley
One reason for their unrest is their dismay with the Modi regime’s failure to have taken the anticipated step so far. They had no expectations from previous Congress-led Governments or so-called secular dispensations, but had trust in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had actually included the construction of the temple in its various election manifestoes. The pro-temple lobby had not pressed its demand during the first BJP-led Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee because the BJP was then heavily dependent on a clutch of ‘secular’ allies to remain in power. But the Modi Government, although it heads a coalition, has a majority on its own in the current Lok Sabha, and could have taken concrete measures to clear the way for the temple’s construction. It did not. It still has a chance to do so, in the next three months or so before the election code of conduct sets in.
The Government apparently does not want to be seen as adopting a knee-jerk response to the mounting demand for the temple. One of its key members, Arun Jaitley, recently remarked that the Modi dispensation will take the right step at the right time after taking all matters into consideration. That is still vague and has not surprisingly satisfied the pro-temple campaigners. Faced with increasing pressure from the RSS and the rest, the Modi regime cannot any more avoid a decision.
The question is no longer whether the Government will bring in an Ordinance that paves the way for the construction of a grand temple at the disputed site. The question is: How soon will it do so? It’s a matter of timing; if the Government gets it right, it will gain.
What triggered the intensification of the campaign is the most recent attitude of the Supreme Court of India towards the case of ownership of the disputed land before it. Earlier, the apex court had raised hopes of an early resolution when it hinted at a day-to-day hearing of the issue — there was the expectation that the matter would be legally settled by this December. However, a Bench headed by the newly-appointed Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, dashed those hopes to the ground when it postponed the matter to the third week of January 2019, and said that the issue was not among the court’s priorities. Moreover, the Bench gave no indication on whether there would be an early disposal of the case. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and led the RSS and various other organisations to mount pressure on the Modi Government to take the Ordinance route.
The Centre is in a Catch-22 situation. If it capitulates immediately to the demand, it could open itself to criticism of subverting an ongoing court process. If it does not, it stands to lose large chunks of its vote base —and its credibility too — across the country. Perhaps it will take the middle ground — wait until January end for the apex court’s decision and then move (bring in an Ordinance). No matter what, inaction is no longer an option.