By MANEESH CHHIBBER
As he readies the BJP for the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a new ally, his strongest one yet – the Supreme Court of India.
In its timing to begin hearing politically-sensitive cases such as Ayodhya early next year, the top court may have unwittingly become part of the BJP’s grand scheme to polarise the voters and get their votes.
Similarly, the Supreme Court’s perceived urgency on hearing the Rafale case could actually end up working to the BJP’s advantage. Although it is difficult to guess the verdict in sensitive cases, if the Supreme Court rules there’s nothing wrong procedurally in the Rafale deal, it would effectively defang the main campaign issue for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. In a single stroke, the Supreme Court can demolish the one big issue on which the Congress hopes to pin down Modi government ahead of the 2019 elections.
This perhaps explains why one of the most asked questions in political and bureaucratic circles is: Rafale par court kya karega (what will the Supreme Court do on Rafale)?
While one doesn’t have the answer to this question, I can say with some degree of certainty that the hon’ble judges would be aware of the deep impact their ruling in the case might have on the outcome of the next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
The court will begin hearing the Ram Temple or Ayodhya case from January in this politically-charged environment. Everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that there’s a mosque angle to the legal dispute too. As the Chief Justice-headed bench clarified, the bench will first decide the date from which regular hearings in the matter will begin.
Last week, the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi decided that the review petitions in the Sabarimala case – if the court’s earlier judgment that all women, including those between the ages of 10 and 50, have the right to enter and pray at Kerala’s most famous temple is correct – will be heard from 22 January 2019.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the BJP. The Hindutva lobby is already critical of the Supreme Court ever since the five-judge Constitution bench allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
How can the court enter the religious domain of the Hindus? Will it have the guts to pass a similar order with regard to Christians or Muslims? These are questions often asked at small meetings organised by Hindutva groups.
When it refused to stay its verdict on Sabarimala and only agreed to hear the 48 petitions challenging the ruling, the Supreme Court inadvertently gave more oxygen to the Hindutva campaign.
I have already said that, having little to show by way of “vikas”, the BJP and the RSS seem to have decided to fight the next elections on the “victim” card – one where every voting Hindu will be repeatedly told that despite being a part of the majority, s/he is deprived of his/her rights as a Hindu. This, the BJP hopes, will ensure that majority of Hindus will vote as Hindus and not as Indians aspiring for a better India in the 2019 elections.
As part of this game plan, the BJP and various Sangh offshoots have already started asking the voters why the Supreme Court is not ready to decide the Ram Temple issue on priority despite India being a Hindu Rashtra.
From mid-December, when the Supreme Court-fixed deadline for filing of claims and objections for inclusion of names in Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) ends, politics over the contentious issue will also heat up.
And, there’s no guessing which party will reap benefits by politicising these issue.
With even die-hard Modi fans and BJP workers are not exactly enthused with the performance of their government in the last four and a half years, their best bet is the Supreme Court.
Any favourable verdict on Rafale – the court doesn’t even need to say that there’s nothing wrong with the pricing of the Rafale deal or whether due procedure was followed or not – will help the Modi government go to town. This will be a big leg up for the BJP’s 2019 campaign.
As for Ayodhya and Sabrimala, the timing of the hearing has ensured that the BJP will be in better position to exploit the top court’s position. My own guess is that the BJP will be happier if the Supreme Court doesn’t decide the Ayodhya matter before elections.
That is why, apart from Ram Lalla, the Supreme Court is perhaps the BJP’s best friend in 2019 elections.
This story first appeared on theprint.in