By Devika Bedi
In a recent turn of events, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath celebrated the festival of Diwali in Ayodhya. “By celebrating a grand Diwali in Ayodhya, I have not started a new practice but it is an age-old tradition here to celebrate the homecoming of Lord Rama,” he said. This new stunt has given rise to myriad political and social speculations as he is the first Chief Minister to visit the city.
Tests for BJP in Ayodhya
Central ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party needs to prove its modernist and developmental approach to maintain its significance and political need in the country. The country today faces an unprecedented debate between the neo-natives: the ones who defend tradition because they are being baffled by the encroachments of modernity, resentful of the attention paid to Western rationality; and the modern open-minded thinkers who are as much the inheritors of Indian knowledge systems as they are of Western rational thought.
Adityanath reached Ayodhya on Wednesday (October 18), where he stayed the night at the Faizabad circuit house before he offered prayers at Hanumangarhi temple and later paid a visit to the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site. Political commentators have remarked on the onset of a new kind of Ramlila in Ayodhya this year—one adorned with political, personal and social listings. Ayodhya’s future holds a mix of mythology and opportunistic politics.
Talking on religious agendas
After the controversy over Taj Mahal, wherein some called it a blot on Indian culture, talks have circled around Adityananth’s new goals in Ayodhya. He has been observed making references to both Taj and Ayodhya as major tourism-driven sites and a need to recreate and renovate the latter for better tourism prospects and to match its past.
“My visit to Ayodhya is part of our effort to develop these religious places so that we meet international standards in terms of providing facilities to tourists“, he said while talking to reporters from CNN. He went on to urge everyone to promote and support the religious importance of the same. He was quoted speaking to Zee TV: “Ramayana is 10,000 years old and Ayodhya is an integral part of it. It was a developed city even back then and people continue to come here from all over. To connect with its illustrious past is a matter of pride for us.”
The supremo Yogi
Adityanath can be perceived as breaking away from the conventional “yes-sir” norms of the BJP and remaining its strong contender. The priest-turned-politician tried shutting down the accusations of him employing political tools over Lord Ram by calling his visit a part of his “personal beliefs” as it is his “duty” to develop Ayodhya.
As a BJP supremo, Yogi had a choice between being a hardcore ideology supporter dipped and soaked in the winds of change, or be a self-regulated, self-inspired fellow who supports development as wholeheartedly as he encourages his beliefs. Yogi seems to have chosen the latter. His schemes and socio-political actions convey development on religious grounds—something that is apparently a fool-proof formula of gaining popularity among the masses. “I am trying to bring the Ayodhya town on the world tourist map by ensuring all-round development,” he said. “It is an effort by me to protect and promote our age-old culture”, he added.
Adityanath’s cumulative identity has not changed. He has transformed into the chief minister of the largest state who often goes incognito and reappears with set goals and missions, carefully designed and executed. As part of the latest development, Yogi’s visit to the Ram Temple sparked questions about the BJP’s intentions. However, it seems that Babri is too old and mature an issue for BJP to pursue social gains. Erection of Lord Ram’s statue in Ayodhya is fresh on schedule. The multi-party opposition, the people of Ayodhya, and the Yogi clan are key stakeholders in this line-up. The mode and ways of its execution, if it is completed at all, will determine the respect and imagery of BJP in the state and the nation. All unsuccessful attempts will advocate BJP’s future discrediting.
What is Adityanath’s new strategy? Is he joining the brigade of Amit Shah’s micro-campaign for 2019 elections? After badly losing elections in Gurdaspur, is BJP rekindling its ideological mix of “Vikas” and jingoism with force and vigour? More than a few political upheavals are springing up now. Rahul Gandhi’s party promotion, Nitish Kumar’s still-fresh alignment, the unapologetic win of the United Left in JNU, and the recent Yogi rhetoric—all are paving the way to the growing tensions across the country.
The nation is accustomed to development and belief gimmicks, but it is relatively unaccustomed to a combination of them. It is going to be a Ramlila the nation has not yet seen. The characters have changed but characteristics remain unaltered.