Ram Rajya Rath Yatra: Returning to Ram for 2019

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When Parliament was debating issues like farmers’ distress and growing unemployment, a RSS-affiliated outfit was busy organizing a 60,000 km-long road trip to revive the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Unlike its previous version in which the chariot had Ayodhya as its destination, this time the journey was to start from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh to reach Rameshwaram in Kanyakumari, the southernmost point in mainland India. The yatra, named Ram Rajya Rath Yatra, was flagged off on February 14 and has already crossed the most important pilgrimage centres of UP including Varanasi and Allahabad. The journey will last 41 days and cover six states including Karnataka, that would face keenly contested polls in April-May. Other states which are to be covered include Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

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Most political observers were under the impression that the issue of the Ram Temple had outlived its political utility. Many were inclined to believe that the BJP-RSS combine will not use the issue again as it might not yield any significant dividends. However, proving them wrong, the combine had started raising the issue the moment it came to power. It has been attempting to combine other issues such as gau-raksha or cow protection, love jihad and triple talaq to the core issue of construction of Ram temple at the disputed site of the demolished Babri mosque. The target, obviously, was the minority Muslim community.

The current yatra has also enlarged its canvas, demanding that the Ramayana be included in school syllabus across the country, that Thursday be declared a weekly holiday and also declaration of a World Hindu Day. So, the RSS has this time expanded the temple agenda to include other Hindutva-centric agendas. The destination of Rameshwaram has been chosen to stress the demand of recognition of the Ram Setu.

Though other long-term agendas have been added to it, the core agenda still remains the same. The yatra is being conducted at a time when the Supreme Court is preparing for a final hearing of the contentious Ram Janmabhoomi case from March 14. When all the political parties and religious organizations have said that they would accept the court verdict, what is the need of organizing a yatra on the issue? The court is yet to give a verdict and the organizer — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — is asserting that a grand Ram temple will be erected at Ayodhya before Ram Navami next year. The rath or chariot has been modelled as per the design of the proposed temple. The yatra also began from Karsevakpuram, the venue where the artefacts of the proposed temple are being created. The place was established during the Ram Mandir agitation of 1990 under the leadership of veteran BJP leader LK Advani.

We can see how pressure is being built upon the judiciary. Spiritual Guru Shri Shri Ravishankar has initiated a dialogue between Hindus and Muslims with some chosen religious leaders. The dialogue is aimed at finding an out-of-court settlement. Noted legal expert and vice-chancellor of National Law University Faizan Mustafa has rightly pointed out that such an effort is unconstitutional and it undermines the constitution. He has also pointed that Ravishankar has been found guilty of violating environment laws by the National Green Tribunal and evading depositing the penalty he has been asked for. The fresh build up around the Ram temple issue is obviously being made keeping in view the 2019 General Election. We have seen how during the Gujarat assembly polls this issue was also invoked. The RSS is determined to go ahead with the agenda of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

But unlike its response in the past, the Muslim community is taking it with some indifference. “They have withdrawn themselves. This has happened after demolition of the Babri mosque,” says eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar. He says that the event has left a dark spot on the secular credentials of the country. He blames the Congress government led by PV Narsimha Rao for the demolition, saying that had Rao not turned a blind eye the mosque would not have been demolished.

Will RSS allow the creation of a Ram temple to pass as an event without turmoil? This is unlikely because the whole purpose will be defeated if some violent incident doesn’t take place. RSS-affiliated outfits will try their best to polarize people on religious grounds. In any case, this has to be done at the time of polls to make gains in terms of votes. So, the mobilization has been done well in advance. Whether they are able to polarize the people will only be seen at the time the yatra enters Karnataka and Kerala. Karnataka is ready for polls and the atmosphere is already charged. Kerala has already been witnessing violent clashes between RSS and CPM workers.

Expressing fear of violence, the CPI(M) said in a statement: “Politburo of CPI(M) expresses its deep concern at the grave implications of the ‘Ram Rajya Rath Yatra’ flagged off at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. This rally was flagged off by the RSS-affiliated VHP General Secretary in the presence of Faizabad BJP MP, Ayodhya’s BJP Mayor and other BJP leaders”. The party has rightly expressed its concern over the fact that the route of the yatra proceeds through BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, spending nearly a fortnight in Karnataka where Assembly elections are due, then proceeding via Kerala to reach Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. “This yatra has an incendiary potential to sharpen communal polarization in order to strengthen the communal Hindutva vote bank for the RSS-BJP. There are grave implications of possibilities for stoking communal tensions, violence and mayhem,” the party has said.

The cleverly planned yatra has  avoided to rope in big leaders. No big BJP stalwart has so far attended the yatra. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was supposed to flag off the yatra, but he didn’t turn up. Only a few months back, he had chosen Ayodhya to launch the campaign for the state’s local polls. This distance is possibly being maintained to make it appear as a non-political initiative. Maybe, the organizers are trying to make the ruling BJP governments at the Centre and the states free from the blame of abetting communal tension.

Changing the slogan of Ram temple to Ram Rajya has its own meaning. This seems to be a claver manipulation on the part of RSS and the BJP. The Hindutva forces have long been trying to legitimize their ideology. They have been trying to appropriate the legacy of the freedom struggle and leaders like Sardar Patel are being portrayed as supporters of Hindutva. They are now trying to appropriate Gandhi’s slogan of Ram Rajya. This may be an attempt to get rid of the Hindu Rashtra slogan which is clearly communal. The word ‘Ram Rajya’ was used by Mahatma Gandhi to symbolize an ideal rule. By adopting it, the RSS is trying to bring some respectability to concept of Hindu Rashtra.

Whatever may be the political outcome of this yatra, it is clear that it will further marginalize the minority community. The attempt is not limited to the agenda of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, it is aimed at establishing Hindu symbols in the country’s public life. This will undermine the constitution.

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