When the Supreme Court, for example, ruled in favour of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on November 9, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called it a “day to forget any bitterness one may have”. The same day, responding to a question on whether the RSS would now take up the issue of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura, its chief Mohan Bhagwat had said: “Because of a historical backdrop, the Sangh got associated with this movement (Ayodhya) as an organisation. It is an exception. Now we will again be associated with human development and this movement will not remain of concern to us.”
Both the BJP and the RSS leadership had also given strict directives to their units across the country to avoid any triumphalism over the verdict.
However, then came the legal process set into motion in Varanasi and also in Mathura, along with the Supreme Court’s intervention.
Senior BJP leaders, including some office-bearers, told The Indian Express that “new developments” have triggered fresh debate within, that could also include a relook at the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.
That Act freezes the status quo on places of worship as of August 15, 1947. The Supreme Court, in its Ayodhya verdict, linked it to “an essential feature of our secular values”.
In May, lawyers representing the Hindu side claimed a shivling had been found during videography of the Gyanvapi mosque. Soon after, UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, a former VHP leader, said: “No matter how much you hide the truth, one day it will come to the fore, because Satya hi Shiv hai, (truth is Shiva), Baba ki Jai, har har mahadev!”
This was echoed by senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe: “Satya hi Shiv hai, Shiv hi Sundar hai #Gyanvapi”.
A senior BJP leader said that the finding of a Shivling in the Gyanvapi mosque makes “restoration” of puja “imminent”.
He acknowledged that this would be a “direct challenge” to the Places of Worship Act. “The finding of Shivling in the mosque changes everything,” said the leader. “If it’s proved that it’s a Shivling, not a stone fountainhead as the caretakers of the mosque claim, no force in the world can stop the next steps. Then the game is over. Restoration of puja becomes imminent because idols or deities cannot stay without puja.”
“For Hindus across the world, Kashi is more important than Ayodhya,” said another party leader.
The first leader contested that this challenged the post-Ayodhya understanding in the party, arguing that the VHP had negotiated an agreement with the BJP that “of the innumerable temples destroyed by the Mughals”, they would take up three: Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya. “Later it was (L K) Advaniji who suggested that if the Muslim community agrees to give the birthplace of Lord Ram, the BJP could give up its campaign for the others,” he said. However, according to him, the Ayodhya disputed land was handed over to the Hindus “not by Muslims but by the Supreme Court order”.
“The context is changed and it becomes invalid,” said another BJP leader, who was once in the RSS. Claiming that “recent developments are in favour of Hindu consolidation”, he said: “It’s not the RSS or the BJP… The Hindus, in general, will get polarised after the finding of Shivling there.”
Some leaders argued that the government, especially Prime Minister Modi, has clarified that they would accept court orders on the disputed issues, just as they did with the Ram temple. “There are many disputes, none of them was created by the BJP, but are historic ones. One has to acknowledge them. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, there are only two ways to resolve the disputes that are historically there – either by mutual agreement or through the court,” said a BJP leader and a Union Minister.
However, at least two party leaders said the developments over Kashi and the court proceedings on Mathura would push the BJP towards breaking its silence over the issue. “There could be demands for changes to the Places of Worship Act. Ultimately, the law will have to be changed. It’s not an Act created by God, it’s by Parliament and it will become part of the BJP’s agenda even if it does not want it,” said a senior BJP leader. “When the Act was made, the reality was different. Now, with the new finding, it’s going to change everything. Things will unfold in that direction.”
Whatever course plays out, this could mark the latest chapter in the BJP’s Hindutva movement.
The June 1989 Palampur resolution had rejected court orders that did not back its claims on Ayodhya, saying “ the nature of this controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law”. That resolution said: “A court of law can settle issues of title, trespass, possession etc. But it cannot adjudicate as to whether Babar did actually invade Ayodhya, destroyed a temple and built a mosque in its place. Even where a court does pronounce on such facts, it cannot suggest remedies to undo the vandalism of history.”