Hindu activists mark the 24th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, on December 6, 2016. Photo: AFP / Narinder Nanu
Hindu activists mark the 24th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, on December 6, 2016. Photo: AFP / Narinder Nanu

It appears that the Indian government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has completed four and a half years of its term, is facing signs of opposition to its effort to stay in power in next year’s general elections.

Rising oil prices, scarcity of jobs, farmer unrest and the widening division of castes, slowly and gradually, are becoming potential threats to the once-juggernaut BJP ahead of elections that are only five or six months away.

The saffron party came to power in 2014 with the promise of development and good days – injecting new hopes among the electorate, who were dissatisfied with the policies of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Indian National Congress (INC). However, the BJP’s re-election strategy now appears to be relying on Lord Ram.

The saffron party is trying to utilize the judgment of the Supreme Court on the Ayodhya dispute, which stated that the court would decide the appropriate bench and fix the date of hearing the case in January. This decision has given rise to speculations that the case will not be settled before the 2019 elections.

The BJP is showing signs of being disturbed by a spree of by-election losses since 2014, most recently in Karnataka, and there are concerns within the party that this trend against it may rise by the time of the general elections. So the saffron party needs an issue to neutralize the anti-incumbency factor so as to return to power. Ram Temple in Ayodhya has come in handy for the BJP in the past, as the party rode to power on temple politics.

It is very clear that the party is trying to keep this issue afloat until the 2019 elections, as it will provide an opportunity to attack the INC and other opposition parties, as the stand of these parties on this issue has never been crystal-clear as compared with the BJP’s.

The BJP’s Hindutva agenda is further bolstered by the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress’ soft-Hindutva approach. Congress leaders calling Rahul “Janeudhari Brahman” – a member of the uppermost Hindu caste wearing the sacred thread – or “Shiv Bhakt” – devotee of Lord Shiva, one of the three main gods of Hinduism – has excited the BJP to  question the grand old party’s stand on the Ram Temple issue.

The Congress party has never made its stand clear on religious issues, mainly related to Hindus – most importantly on the Ayodhya Temple issue. In addition to that, the main opposition party’s regular taunting of the ruling BJP regarding the building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya has only provided the opportunity to the saffron party to dredge up the unruly past of the Congress – the accusation that the grand old party during its heyday always ignored the majority Hindus through its appeasement of minority politics.

However, focusing on temple politics may not serve the BJP well. Various reports say that rural India is more concerned with basic issues like access to clean drinking water, proper hospitals, affordable health care, proper nutrition, reliable supplies of electricity, proper roads, quality schools and colleges and, most important, stemming the rise of farmer suicides.

As stated by Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Anupriya Patel in a written reply this year in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Indian parliament), 61.2% of the primary health centers in the country have only one doctor and 7.69% of them don’t even have a single doctor.

Another report in 2017 pointed out that India is home to 50% of the undernourished children of the world. In addition to that, India only spends 1.02% of gross domestic product on health, a fraction of the outlays in such countries as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, the US and Norway.

Not only that, a report published in 2017 by WaterAid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation, said India had more people in the rural areas – 63.4 million – living without access to clean water than any other country.

The worst case is obviously farmer suicides, as according to one report 300,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1998. Last year, the government of India informed the Supreme Court that more than 12,000 farmer suicides had been reported since 2013.

Only boosting GDP growth does not ensure proper development on the ground, a fact witnessed in the UPA’s era too. It would have been much better if the BJP government had focused on these issues and left the temple issue to the Supreme Court. What it boils down to is that the good days promised by Narendra Modi before he became prime minister in the 2014 elections are yet to arrive in India.

Sagarneel Sinha

The writer is an India-based commentator on politics, religion, culture and philosophy and tweets @sagarneelsinha.