New Delhi: A series of developments over the past few days has pitchforked the Ayodhya dispute to the centrestage of the ongoing campaign for Gujarat elections.

First, the Supreme Court took up the Ayodhya judgement of the Allahabad high court for hearing on Tuesday—the eve of the 25th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid—and then, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, representing the Sunni Waqf Board as its lawyer, requested for the case to be delayed to July 2019—after the conclusion of the 17th general elections.

An aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to exploit what it saw as a political opportunity, just days away from the first phase of polling for Gujarat elections on 9 December.

“Yesterday, Sibal advocated the cause of the Muslim community. He has the right to do it and we do not have any problem with it. You can present your argument quoting all facts and laws to save Babri Masjid," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an election rally in Ahmedabad district before adding, “But you dare say that the case should not be heard till 2019 elections. You want to stop the hearing of Ram temple (issue) in the name of elections."

The Prime Minister was addressing election rallies in Dhandhuka, Dahod and Netrang in Gujarat on Wednesday.

“Does the Waqf Board fight elections? Are these thoughts of delaying the hearing for elections that of the Waqf Board? The elections in the country are being fought by the Congress. You want to keep the issue unresolved for political gain and losses in the elections?" Modi questioned.

Sibal on Tuesday told the apex court that since the judgment would have “very serious ramifications", its hearing should be deferred till July 2019. His plea was rejected and the matter is to be heard from 8 February next year.

On its part, the Congress, on Tuesday itself, sought to distance itself from the controversy and maintained that the order of the Supreme Court in this case should be acceptable to the government and political parties.

On Wednesday, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala in a press conference in Ahmedabad reiterated his party’s stand and said that the BJP was trying to reap political gains out of it. He added that Congress would want the issue to be resolved by the courts at the earliest.

However, the BJP kept up the political pressure. Party president Amit Shah took to Twitter to post: “Now that Sunni Waqf Board has said that they don’t agree with what Kapil Sibal said in court, it is certain that Mr. Sibal spoke in his capacity as a Congress leader, with the blessings of their High Command. Shameful posturing by Congress on Ram Temple issue!"

The face-off over Ayodhya comes in the backdrop of criticism by the BJP over a series of temple visits in Gujarat by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Recalling a similar incident ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections earlier this year, Modi, speaking at the same rally, said that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in contrast had decided to oppose triple talaq in the apex court, despite the risk of a possible backlash in the assembly election.

“This attitude of weighing every thing on political scale has made this country suffer the most," Modi said.

Analyst believe the exchanges over the Ayodhya dispute at such a critical phase of the Gujarat elections could energize the BJP’s voter base.

“With the prime minister raising the issue of Ayodhya ahead of polls, the issue will become an electoral matter in the Gujarat elections. The Hindu voter is a strong support base for the BJP and raising issues like Ayodhya will help consolidate that base. Similar issues were also raised during the Uttar Pradesh elections," said Mukesh Khatik, a Gujarat-based political analyst and assistant professor, department of political science at Gujarat university.

Gujarat elections are to be held in two phases on 9 and 14 December while counting of votes will take place on 18 December.

With inputs from PTI

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