Day after Advani raises pitch, BJP soft-pedals on temple

Day after Advani raises pitch, BJP soft-pedals on temple
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First Published: Tue, Feb 10 2009. 12 12 AM IST
Updated: Tue, Feb 10 2009. 12 12 AM IST
New Delhi: A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, departed from his prepared speech to revive the Ram temple issue in what some analysts see as efforts to turn the spotlight away from hawks in the party, at least two party leaders sought to downplay his remark.
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“It (Ram issue) is a resolve. It is not on our manifesto. Our allies don’t want it. When we get the strength on our own, we will build the Ram temple,” said the party’s spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
“There was no concerted attempt by the party to revive this (Ram temple) issue. Rajnath Singh (BJP president) raised it on the first day of the national council meet in Nagpur to counter Kalyan Singh (former BJP leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister who has now joined hands with the state’s main opposition Samajwadi Party) in Uttar Pradesh where the party desperately wants to do better,” said another senior party leader, who didn’t want to be identified.
This person added that “none of the senior leaders, including strategist Arun Jaitley, manifesto committee member Murli Manohar Joshi or M. Venkaiah Naidu, raised the issue in their speeches”.
Analysts say the issue of building a temple in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram according to Hindu religious scripture, the Ramayana, is no longer relevant and that it will only alienate the BJP’s coalition partners in the run-up to the elections due before May.
“Our leader Naveen Patnaik has repeatedly said he is secular to the bone. Therefore, that makes the stand of our party amply clear. The BJD (Biju Janata Dal) is a secular, tolerant, progressive and pro-poor party,” said Tathagata Satpathy, a Lok Sabha member of Parliament who belongs to the BJD, a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
He declined to comment on the possible impact of Advani’s statement on the alliance.
Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor of political science at the University of Delhi,?said he was surprised Advani had raised an issue that is likely to harm the BJP more than benefit it.
“This issue is not going to work now simply because of the changed socio-economic and political context. It had become relevant after 6 December 1992 when the context was conducive and the Hindutva agenda gained momentum. The pro-Hindutva voter believed the BJP would actually build the temple if given a chance...”
In December 1992, a crowd of Hindu protesters demolished a mosque that stood at the place where they now wish to build a temple to Ram.
On Sunday, Advani said, “In (the) true sense, we will be able to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ only when a magnificent temple of the Lord is built (at Ayodhya).” He added that his party had never “moved away from Ram”.
Meanwhile the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government at the Centre, accused the BJP of hypocrisy. “This just shows the BJP’s hypocrisy. They have faith in Ram, not as a deity or god, but as a way to get votes during elections and to use for political purposes temporarily,” said Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Union agriculture minister and president of the Nationalist Congress Party Sharad Pawar and railway minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad criticized the BJP leadership for raking up the Ram temple issue. In the 2004 elections, the BJP won only 138 seats in the Lok Sabha.
ruhi.t@livemint.com
Utpal Bhaskar and PTI contributed to the story.
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First Published: Tue, Feb 10 2009. 12 12 AM IST