Mahatma Gandhi was a true Ram bhakt. Throughout his life, he did not just chant Lord Ram’s name but lived by his example. Taking a leaf from Lord Ram’s life which demonstrated simplicity, self-sacrifice and renunciation, Gandhi also practiced these virtues.

Gandhi was so inspired by Lord Ram that he even visualized the concept of Ram Rajya for an independent India – an ideal state where justice and equality prevail.

This vision was later proselytized by Rajiv Gandhi. In 1989, from Ayodhya, his election speech started with a pledge to bring Ram Rajya in the country. Rajiv Gandhi also realized that Ramayana and Mahabharata are central to India’s character. He was of the opinion that Indian television should broadcast serials that depict the values held in our ancient texts. That’s why, on his advice in 1985, Doordarshan started telecasting Ramayana and Mahabharata.

His actions validate his love for Lord Ram and the Janambhoomi. In 1986, he convinced the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Bir Bahadur Singh, to open the locks of the Ram Janambhoomi temple and gave Hindus access to the birthplace of their Ram Lalla. Then, in November 1989, he sent the then home minister, Buta Singh, to Ayodhya to participate in the Shilanyas ceremony of the temple.

During Rajiv Gandhi’s last press conference in Chennai he talked about building the Ram Mandir with the consensus of all concerned. When a journalist asked him where the Ram Mandir would be built, his reply was “Why, in Ayodhya, of course. Isn’t that obvious?”

After Mahatma Gandhi, it was only Rajiv Gandhi who understood the importance of the Ram Mandir. If his government would have returned to power in 1989, the temple may have been built long back.

Even Subramanian Swamy once said, “I have known Rajiv Gandhi very well. Had he become Prime Minister once again, he would have definitely constructed the Ram Temple at the same place.”

These words from a leader very well corroborate Rajiv Gandhi’s intent to build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Unfortunately, his untimely demise not only buried his vision but also led to the downfall of the Congress Party. His legatees could not do justice to the hardheaded Ayodhya policy that Rajiv at once commissioned.

After Rajiv’s assassination, Congress abandoned the Ram Mandir issue. The BJP embraced it. On the one hand, Congress gradually developed a phobia for Ram, Ramayana, and Ram Rajya. On the other hand, the BJP mobilized Hindus and emerged as a dominant political force in the country.

Ever since Congress abandoned Ayodhya, Hindus started abandoning Congress. In 2009, when the UPA government filed an affidavit in Supreme Court questioning the existence of Lord Ram, it became a cause célébre. The religious sentiments of millions of Hindus were hurt. Over the years no Congress leader was found talking about Lord Ram. Within the Congress anyone who took the name of Lord Ram was termed as Sanghi, communal, bigot, or Hindutva agent by the party members.

The Congress Party lost the Ram Mandir narrative. It lost Uttar Pradesh in 1989. While the party lost Hindus to the BJP, Muslims too drifted away from the Congress in the wake of Babri Masjid demolition.

The Congress, which has been trying hard to change its image, maintained, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, that it would abide by the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Ayodhya issue or support any negotiated settlement. The party was accused of practising soft Hindutva during this campaign, with then party President Rahul Gandhi’s temple runs seemingly proving this point.

Still, the Congress has never really been vocal in its support for the temple construction. Now, barring a few Congress leaders who have expressed reservations, albeit in private, most have struck a conciliatory tone.

The Congress Party may have stated that it respects the Supreme Court verdict and is in favour of building Ram Mandir, but the fact that the party failed to say these words earlier can’t be undone. Had Congress made this statement earlier India’s political scenario would have been different and so would Congress’ position. The party would not have lost it all.

The writer is retired Head of the Department of Political Science, Asutosh College, Kolkata.