New Delhi, Dec 7: Finally, Lord Ram has set his foot in Gujarat. Jai Shri Ram!
Now, the things are pretty clear--the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections are not about development, atrocities on Dalits, Patidar agitation, demonetisation and GST, but about Ram temple, Hindutva and communal politics.
So, all the incoherent debates over what issues would dominate the all-important elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home turf have been settled.
With less than 48 hours to go when Gujarat will vote for the first phase of elections on Saturday, it's the fight over building the Ram temple in the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, that is hogging the limelight.
The Assembly elections in Gujarat are divided into two phases. While the first phase of polls is scheduled on Saturday, the second one is scheduled on December 14. The results of the elections will be declared on December 18.
Thanks to both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)--which is facing anti-incumbency and backlash from various groups in Gujarat--and the Congress--desperate to make its presence felt in the state--communal politics has reared its ugly head in Gujarat, once again.
The state is known for voting on caste and communal lines, although the ruling BJP maintains that it is development that drives the entire electoral process in Gujarat.
With the Congress' one-minded focus on Gujarat and a series of rebellions against the BJP in the state, all this while the saffron party was looking lost over issues to fight the upcoming polls.
The 25th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid on Wednesday and the Supreme Court's hearing on the long-pending Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute on Tuesday came as blessings for the BJP in Gujarat.
Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are poles apart, but communal politics works wonders in both the states, like in the rest of the country. So, the BJP decided to subtly fight the polls by bringing religious division among the voters.
The Congress also brilliantly prepared the ground to turn Gujarat polarised during the election season. First, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's repeated visits to temples in Gujarat since September, then serious gaffe on the part of senior Congress leader and advocate Kapil Sibal who on Tuesday during the hearing of the Ayodhya title dispute case in the Supreme Court asked the apex court to defer the final announcement of judgement in the matter to July 2019 after the completion of the parliamentary polls.
The moment the news about Sibal's request in the apex court was highlighted by the media, the BJP leaders literally pounced on the Congress and Rahul over its "double standard" on building the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
First, BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday asked Rahul to clarify the Congress' stand on the disputed issue that has since December 6, 1992, when Hindu kar sevaks brought down the Babri Masjid, not only divided the country on religious grounds but has resulted in several Hindu-Muslim riots.
On Wednesday, Modi, who is aggressively campaigning in Gujarat, attacked the Congress during his rally in Dhandhuka over Sibal's remarks. "Now the Congress links the Ram Mandir with elections. They are least bothered about the nation," he said.
In another rally, the PM congratulated the Sunni Waqf Board for "their brave stand on the matter and disassociating themselves from the statement of Sibal".
Isn't it contradictory on the part of Modi to accuse the Congress of linking the Ram Mandir with the Gujarat elections, when he and his party leaders are repeatedly doing the same thing?
Sibal, while asking the Supreme Court to postpone the hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, stressed on the fact that the BJP has said that the Ram temple will be built before 2019 through legal means.
"They (the BJP) want to make it a part of their election manifesto and the court should not fall into the trap," said Sibal.
The Supreme Court rejected Sibal's appeal and said it would begin the final hearings on the case pertaining to the disputed site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims from February 8, 2018.
The Sunni Waqf Board, one of the groups who Sibal was said to be representing in court, disowned his comments. "Yes, Kapil Sibal is our lawyer but he is also related to a political party, his statement in the Supreme Court yesterday (Tuesday) was wrong. We want a solution to the issue at the earliest," said Haji Mehboob of the board.
Hours after the PM attacked the Congress and Sibal, the former Union minister insisted that the board wasn't his client. "Our PM comments without knowing things sometimes. Amit Shah and he said I represented the Sunni Waqf Board. I was never a Sunni Waqf Board lawyer," he said.
Sibal's own party, the Congress, too has already distanced itself from his comments in the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who has also campaigned in Gujarat, called the stand of the Congress and Rahul on Ram temple as "hypocrisy".
It was the Ram temple movement that helped the saffron party to win 161 seats for the first time during the parliamentary elections in 1996. Since then, the BJP overtly or covertly conducts election campaigns across the country on the basis of building the Ram temple for Hindus in the holy town of Ayodhya, considered as the birthplace of Lord Ram.
At a time when the Congress is fast shedding its minority appeasement tag to win over the majoritarian hearts and the BJP's Hindutva agenda becoming more and more militant with each passing year, the elections in Gujarat can't be anything but about religion and more religion.