New Delhi: The budget session of the Uttar Pradesh assembly has been dominated by Hindutva this season: passing a resolution congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya; the repeated raising of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans by Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs; and chief minister Adityanath’s defence of the fight to claim mosques in Varanasi and Mathura.
The BJP enjoys an overwhelming majority in the state and is comfortably placed electorally. Yet it has not shied away from unleashing its core agenda of Hindutva and raking up the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the past to target the Opposition Samajwadi Party ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election and woo Hindu voters, who form three-fourths of the state’s population.
On Wednesday, February 7, Adityanath, while speaking in the state assembly, minced no words in indicating the intent of the Hindu Right in claiming the two remaining mosques in the Hindutva agenda – the Shahi Eidgah Masjid in Mathura and the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi – where Hindu plaintiffs claim grand temples stood, dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva, before they were destroyed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. While the matter in both suits is in court, Adityanath made a cheeky reference to the district administration in Varanasi overseeing Hindu puja inside a cellar of the Gyanvapi Masjid in the middle of the night, within hours of a local court controversially handing over the basement to the Hindus for prayer on January 31 and breaking a section of the barricades at the mosque.
“When people witnessed the utsav in Ayodhya, then Nandi Baba (a reference to Nandi, the bull who serves as a vehicle of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology) also asked why he should wait. Without waiting any longer, he broke the barricades in the night. And how is our Krishna Kanhaiya going to relent?” Adityanath asked.
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Adityanath also narrated an episode from the epic Mahabharata to justify the push to build grand temples in Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi in place of existing mosques. At a time when the Ram Mandir, built at the site where the Babri Masjid stood till 1992, has been opened to the public and legal battles by the Hindu right to dispossess Muslims from Mughal-era mosques in Varanasi and Mathura have intensified, Adityanath alluded to the “inevitability” of war if a timely compromise was not found.
Adityanath compared the “injustice” faced by the Pandavas in the Mahabharata to the alleged neglect of Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura, where the Sangh parivar-led Hindu right has for decades claimed that temples were demolished by Mughal emperors to build mosques, under previous governments.
When the Pandavas and the Kauravas were at the brink of war, Lord Krishna went to the Kauravas with a proposal of compromise and peace to avert the bloody conflict. Krishna proposed to Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, that if they agreed to give just five villages from their kingdom to the Pandavas, there would be no need for war. However, Duryodhana refused and arrogantly remarked that he would not even part with the land the size of a needle. The two sides eventually fought the great war Mahabharata.
“The Mahabharata war was thus inevitable. And what happened? The entire Kauravas were annihilated,” Adityanath said, while delivering a vote of thanks speech during the budget session of the UP assembly. His statement was met with thunderous applause and chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ from BJP MLAs in the assembly.
Using the analogy of seeking “only five villages” to prevent a bloody war, Adityanath in a reference to the Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura campaign of the Sangh parivar, said that Hindu society was only talking of three places.
“The society here has for centuries only spoken of three places (Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi). We only asked for three places. There was no issue about other places,” Adityanath said.
It is subject to interpretation to conclude whether Adityanath was supporting the claim of Hindu groups on other mosques and Islamic monuments beyond Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura or simply saying that the Hindu Right’s demand would be restricted to these three sites.
The UP chief minister further said that Hindus wanted the three specific sites (in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura) because “they are special places”. “They are not ordinary. They are the land of the lord’s incarnation,” he said.
The stage for high-pitched Hindutva was set on the inaugural day of the session on February 2, when Governor Anandiben Patel started her address by hailing the Ram Mandir, and referred to “the long wait of 500 years” for it and said that the consecration of the Ram Lalla idol would strengthen the concept of a Ram Rajya.
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On February 5, finance and parliamentary affairs minister Suresh Khanna introduced a resolution in the assembly to congratulate Modi and Adityanath for scripting a “new history” by installing the idol of Lord Ram in the temple in Ayodhya after a wait of 500 years. Though Khanna did mention the Supreme Court, which paved the way for the construction of the temple through its judgment in 2019, the “badhai prastav” was dedicated to Modi and Adityanath.
“This is the biggest event of the century due to which we have found our pride after so many years,” Khanna said, adding that the temple would not only “strengthen social and cultural nationalism” but also provide a boost to the tourism sector.
Some senior Samajwadi Party MLAs including Lalji Verma objected to the resolution, asking, what was the need to congratulate the prime minister and the chief minister when the temple was being constructed on the directions of the court. “Kis baat ki badhai? Zabardasti badhai (What is are these forced congratulations for),” one Opposition MLA was heard saying.
As BJP MLAs started raising slogans, assembly speaker Satish Mahana intervened and requested them to not force anyone. “Don’t force anyone to congratulate,” Mahana said. In response to this, BJP MLAs chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. They raised the slogans again a few seconds later when the assembly passed the resolution.
UP has 403 MLAs and out of this only 14, all Opposition party MLAs, opposed the motion. While the SP has 108 MLAs, its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal has nine. The BJP and its allies have 277 seats, way more than the half-way mark required to be in power.
That 14 MLAs objecting to the motion provided the BJP fresh fodder to play its Hindutva card as some of its MLAs, including Shalabh Mani Tripathi, former media advisor to Adityanath, demanded that the names of these 14 be made public. Such was the pressure to align with the dominant narrative that on February 6, when SP MLA Swami Omvesh, himself a saffron-clad leader like Adityanath, rose to speak in the assembly, he issued an apologetic clarification that he was wrongly accused of raising his hand against the resolution on Ram Mandir.
“I chant the Lord’s name everyday after performing havan for Shri Ram,” said Omvesh, requesting the House to clear his name.
On February 7, Adityanath’s long speech was dominated by references to the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement including the role of the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad since 1984, fulfilment of the promise of building a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid, “foreign invaders” who destroyed places of worship of Hindus and the alleged neglect of Ayodhya under previous governments.
“It was for the first time we witnessed that a majority community had to beg, even when public faith was insulted in the country,” he said.
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Ram Mandir dominated the proceedings as Speaker Mahana invited all members of the assembly to visit the temple in Ayodhya on February 11. Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav refused the proposal, saying that he would visit Ayodhya on the call of Lord Ram and not on the invitation of the Speaker. The session was concluded with minister Khanna reading out a lengthy “sankalp” or resolution, this time one on the change of the Ayodhya airport from Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram International Airport to Maharishi Valmiki International Airport, in what appears to be a strategy to woo Dalits through Hindutva. The resolution was passed unanimously by the House.
Yadav resisted the bait and avoided references to the Ram Mandir or countering Adityanath’s attacks on the alleged neglect of Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura, considered holy by Hindus, under the previous SP governments. The SP chief, who is trying to combat the BJP with a strategy of mobilising the PDA (OBCs, Dalits and minorities), dedicated his speech to issues of public concern and livelihood, such as inflation, income of farmers, stray cattle issue, corruption, law and order, women’s safety and unemployment.
Adityanath took note of Yadav’s speech and criticised him for not speaking a word on the Ram Mandir, which he said was an issue of national importance.
“Even today, he is worried about his vote bank and not the state,” said Adityanath.
The question remains, for how long can the Opposition parties evade questions around the BJP’s core agenda of Hindutva to escape the allegation, albeit bogus, of so-called Muslim appeasement? For now, the BJP’s temple politics has a free run in the country’s most important state, politically.