Provocative as it may sound, the CJI-led bench of the Supreme Court has made the Ram temple a key issue at stump speeches during the 2019 General Election. While three more months in a case which has dragged on for decades might not mean much in normal circumstance, today’s decision means that the daily hearings would go on when the Nation would be in the thick of poll season.
So even if inadvertently, by pushing Ayodhya hearings to January and beyond, the Supreme Court might end up sharing some blame with the impatient Hindutva brigade in making the Ram temple dispute an election agenda. The postponement is particularly perplexing given that there were no legal hurdles left after the September verdict on petitions for the review of the Ismail Farooqi case.
It presents a difficult Catch-22 for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). An early disposal of the case would have provided clearer options to the BJP government. In case of an adverse verdict against Ram temple, it would have exercised the option of an ordinance to address its core constituency. A favourable verdict would have been showcased as an icing on the cake of Modi government’s five-year performance. Either way it would have had the proverbial laddoo in both its hands.
Not anymore. If it takes the ordinance route outside the Parliament session as demanded by RSS-led core constituents, it risks angering the Supreme Court during the January 2019 hearings. On the other hand, not doing so makes the BJP susceptible to falling foul with the rising temple sentiment of its core voter base.
And while it does slightly better than the BJP with this Supreme Court intervention, the principal opposition party Congress is also not in a position to pull the best political mileage that it might have wanted out of it. For one, the fact that Ram Mandir debate would be a raging hot issue during election season would put immense political pressure on the Congress to come clean on its stand. People would want to know whether it wants a temple or not at the Ramjanam Bhoomi site. Like now, even more then, it would be difficult for the Congress to shrug off the shilanyas baggage from its shoulders. If the party led by a Janeu-dhari Shiv-bhakt is seen as holding against the tide of Ram Mandir sentiment, then that might turn out to be a best-case scenario for the BJP.