ayodhya ram mandir-modis gambit
Policemen guarding the disputed site

The holy city of Ayodhya is at the center of India’s most divisive issue in Indian politics-the Ram Mandir. Modi’s government faces elections in four months time and is looking to lock in their re election bid by betting big on this issue. The Modi government has every reason to be nervous, the latest state elections delivered a stinging rebuke to the BJP with electoral losses in the northern states of Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. many of these states voted overwhelmingly for Modi in the 2014 polls.

But the Modi government faces strong headwinds this time around. Modi’s electoral coalition is deeply disappointed with his governments middling performance. The jobs he promised have failed to materialize. India’s economic growth is sluggish in no part due to the governments ill conceived note ban that left small business owners high and dry. Voters are unlikely to forget the long queues they had to stand in for hours in order to get their money exchanged. Modi’s ill timed and poorly executed adventure is unlikely to be forgotten by the voters any time soon and is likely to go down in history as one of the biggest goof ups ever by any Prime Minister.

Recent polls suggests that the support for the government is waning. For this the government has no one but itself to blame. Riding on the Modi wave the BJP swept into power in the 2014 polls with the largest electoral victory in three decades. Modi won a strong mandate from the people but has failed to deliver. A victory with a smaller margin or a hung parliament will leave Modi weakened. A leadership challenge is then likely to materialize.

But the BJP still has one ace up its sleeve, Modi raised many eyebrows by elevating Yogi Adiyanath a firebrand Hindu politician with strong Hindutva credentials to the post of chief minister for India’s most populous state-Ut tar Pradesh. UP was crucial to Modi’s electoral victory in 2014, the BJP bagged 71 of its Lok Sabha seats. Since his ascent Adyinath has done what he was meant to do, keeping Hindutva alive in the Hindu heartland. Adyinath has unabashedly come out in support of cow protection. Around 750 cow shelters have been ordered at the panchayat level. Cow vigilantes have been similarly emboldened with attack on Muslims and other minorities over alleged slaughter on the rise. Adiyanath has also been on a name changing spree of late, changing Allahabad to PragyaRaj and has further proposed renaming iconic cities such as Agra after Deen Dayal Upadhay and Kanpur after Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. Modi’s choice of constituency Varanasi and not his stronghold Gujarat was also seen as a nod to his broader hindutva credentials. The government has asked the Supreme court to give back land surrounding the site to a Hindu group in favor of constructing the temple. Adiyanath went even further by suggesting in an interview to India TV that the court should “hand its verdict soon or hand over the issue to us”. And what happens if the verdict isn’t to Modi’s liking. Are we to see a return to the violence that left 2000 people dead in the early 90’s. Surely the BJP is unlikely to take an unfavorable verdict lying down.

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