Soon after the BJP’s landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, leading vernacular newspapers in the state published veteran RSS ideologue M.G.Vaidya’s statement that the mandate in UP was for the construction of the Ram Temple. “It is also clearly stated in the BJP manifesto,” Vaidya asserted. Within a few days of Vaidya’s statement, the BJP leadership surprised everyone by appointing 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath has been Lok Sabha member from Gorakhpur since 1998. It is well known that Adityanath is a hard core Hindutva face of the party who has in the past talked about placing a Hindu idol in every mosque in UP. He has publicly spoken of converting the state into a Hindu rashtra. He has also threatened from time to time saying, “when they couldn’t stop Kar Sevaks from demolishing the Babri Masjid, how can anyone stop them from constructing a temple there?”
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the RSS arm that led the Ram Temple campaign, was quick to welcome Adityanath’s appointment as chief minister. The VHP’s belligerent leader and campaigner Pravin Togadia said, “We have full faith now that under the new leadership in UP Bhagwan Ram will soon get a grand temple in Ayodhya”.
Togadia also recalled Adityanath’s guru and foster father Mahant Avaidyanath’s contribution to the Ram Temple campaign. Avaidyanath was a four-time Lok Sabha member who vigorously led the Ram Temple movement since the 1980s when the BJP, under L.K. Advani’s leadership, fully jumped into the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign at the national level. Advani later described it as the biggest political movement since independence.
In 2003, Avaidyanath, as head of a VHP committee on temple construction, demanded a special session of parliament and a legislation to enable the construction of the Ram Temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. Of course, the NDA leadership did not respond as the BJP did not have a majority in the house. Besides, the NDA manifesto had kept contentious issues like the Ram Temple out.
It is instructive that today the BJP has a majority in both the UP assembly and the Lok Sabha. A BJP majority in the Rajya Sabha is just a matter of time. So technically, the BJP need not even wait for a Supreme Court pronouncement on the matter if they choose to revive Avaidyanath’s proposal to bring a legislation for the construction of a temple. And being in power in UP with such a brute majority will only help further. Adityanath’s surprise elevation must be seen in this context. In a way, it also marks nearly 70 years of continuity in the way the heads of the Goraknath mutt, belonging to the Nath monastic group steadfastly – and illegally – helped in the campaign to build the Ram Temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood.
Just as Adityanath took over from Avaidyanath, the latter took over the mutt from his guru Mahant Digvijaynath who led the campaign in 1949 to illegally place an idol of Rama inside the Babri Masjid. Digvijaynath was later elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 when he was national general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha. He too worked very closely with the VHP.
Given this long history of the Gorakhnath Mutt’s involvement in the Ram Temple movement, it is only fitting that Adityanath has been made the chief minister of UP. An this comes at a time when the Sangh parivar perceives that political Hindutva has seeped low enough to go for the long pending Ram Temple project, seen as a major marker for the establishment of its cultural nationalism.
Of late, the BJP leadership has been preparing the ground for this with its refrain that “development and Hindutva” are two sides of the same coin and must not be seen in opposition to each other. BJP president Amit Shah has said this in many interviews to media since 2014. Recently, in the context of the UP election campaign, Shah told a small group of editors, “You people see the shamshan ghat/kabristan parity question raised by the prime minister as a communal issue. We see it as a development issue”.
A clear and decisive narrative of Hindutva as an integral component of the larger economic development project is already out there. Various facets of it will unfold in due course. The BJP is further emboldened by the post-demonetisation voter behaviour, which is being politically perceived by the Sangh leadership as a sign that the people have bought into a larger moral/nationalist narrative and are therefore willing to make economic/material sacrifices for a “larger cause”. The BJP leadership may well link the proposed Ram Temple to the cause of Hindutva-based nationalist development. In this pursuit, material sacrifices may have to be made, all over again. The social unrest and violence in the years before and after the Babri Masjid demolition set the Indian economy back by several years and it introduced permanent fissures and faultlines in the polity, as seen in the subsequent riots in Mumbai and years later in Gujarat.
The BJP, armed with a brute majority in the Lok Sabha and UP assembly, seems to be attempting even bolder experiments. Adityanath as UP chief minister is one of its boldest moves yet in pursuit of ‘Hindutva-based development’.