A young leader like Aaditya Thackeray visiting Ayodhya emphasizes the fact that the place has greater importance in Indian politics. Although the Shiv Sena called his visit “unpolitical”, Ayodhya became a touchstone for any party to achieve political success or a metaphor for Hindutva ideology.
This is Aaditya’s first solo trip to the city of temples. He had previously accompanied his father and Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray. The visit of Aaditya, Maharashtra’s Minister of Tourism and Environment, is of significance as the opposition BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had targeted the Shiv Sena and accused it of not following Hindutva . MNS leader Raj Thackeray had announced his visit to Ayodhya ahead of Aaditya, but the plan was scrapped as a BJP MP objected to his visit and demanded his apology for insulting North Indians few years ago.
“The importance of Ayodhya, more than just a site of the dispute over the birthplace of Lord Ram, was like a constant figure in the shaping of post-independence politics,” said Professor Pralay Kanungo, academic and author of RSS’s Tryst with Politics: From Hedgewar to Sudarshan, as mentioned in The Hindu.
The Ram Mandir movement began to gain traction in 1989 when Vishva Hindu Parishad held a cornerstone laying ceremony at the disputed site of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid. The movement reached its peak in 1991 after former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani started the Rath Yatra of Gujarat in 1990 to raise awareness of the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi and gain Ram Mandir’s support in Ayodhya.
Since 1991, Ayodhya has always voted for a BJP MP except once when the Samajwadi party won in 2012. In eight Lok Sabha elections during the same period, the BJP has won five times, according to The Hindu.
Recently, at a rally in Mumbai, Uddhav criticized the BJP and MNS for “twisting” the idea of Hindutva, and also launched an investigation into the RSS, saying he had never participated in the struggle for freedom against the British. The CM had also claimed that it was late Sena leader Bal Thackeray who showed the BJP the idea of ’saffron and hindutva’ to help achieve power in the Centre.
Aaditya’s visit appears to remind the party’s support base of the original Hindutva purveyors. Although Shiv Sena MLC, Manisha Kayande reportedly said Aaditya’s visit was merely a ‘pilgrimage’ and not ‘showing our Hindutva’.
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Aam Aadmi party organizer and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had also visited Ayodhya last year in October in an attempt to woo Ram’s bhakts and show their right side. Shortly after visiting Ayodhya, Kejriwal announced a free pilgrimage plan to the temple city. His visit gained prominence ahead of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The party even declared that it would establish “Ram Rajya in UP” if elected to power.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati had also promised to speed up the construction of the Ram temple if the party was elected to power in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP’s position contradicted its fundamental ideology centered on the Dalit vote.
Ram Mandir in the political-cultural space
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had recently laid the foundation stone of the sanctum sanctorum, ‘garbhagriha’ of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya to mark the start of the next phase of temple construction. The temple is expected to be open to the public by 2024.
It should be noted that over the years Ayodhya has captured the political-cultural space of the country just like Varanasi, Haridwar and Rishikesh, according to Prof. Kanungo. “It will not surprise me if the developments around this pilgrimage site become a space to debate singular questions about Hinduism,” he says, quoted by The Hindu.
VHP President Rabindra Narain Singh said in December that the Ram Janmabhoomi Shrine in Ayodhya would develop on the model of Vatican City and Mecca, and become the symbol of Hindutva, as reported by PTI.
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