However, as the party is in power and it has earlier always maintained that the dispute would be solved only through the Supreme Court, so, the BJP, officially, is hesitant to pitch openly on this issue. So what! The party has its own large family — the saffron family — who are there to help BJP — after all, family is family. Seems that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is trying to follow the family principles by rightly pitching the demand for Lord Ram's Temple in Ayodhya, probably at the right time. Uddhav Thackeray, who visited Ayodhya, has criticised BJP by saying — “Before elections it’s only about Ram, Ram and after elections, it’s only aaram (rest)”.

Shiv Sena, which is nearer to the Hindutva spectrum in comparison to BJP, has its own reasons for pitching the demand of Ram Temple. Already, Shiv Sena, unhappy with BJP’s big brotherly attitude, has decided to contest solo in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and subsequently in the Maharashtra state elections — which are to be held later in 2019. However, the truth is Shiv Sena, if it contests alone, will hurt itself more than hurting the BJP and this will only help the rival Congress – NCP combine.

Shiv Sena knows that it has to face the anti-incumbency factor as it has been also in power along with BJP. Although, Shiv Sena has been behaving like an opposition party by routinely attacking the policies of the Modi government in the party mouthpiece Saamna for the last four and a half years, the party knows that this is not enough to win seats in elections. If local elections are any indication then one point is clear that BJP has been successful in stretching its arms in all parts of Maharashtra. On the other hand, Shiv Sena till today hasn't been able to become a pan-Maharashtra party.

Shiv Sena may be critical against the BJP but the dilemma is that presently it cannot go with the Congress and the NCP as ideologically it is a hard-Hindutva party. There are reports that Congress is hesitant to take Shiv Sena on board due to its hard-Hindutva stance. Obviously, Congress, which has been attacking the BJP for 'destroying' secularism, cannot afford to go with an alliance with the Shiv Sena, which is ideologically more right than the BJP. Addition to this, BJP has Narendra Modi to battle against anti-incumbency but Shiv Sena has no leader post the death of its supreme leader — Bal Thackeray. Uddhav Thackeray is aware of the truth that he is no match to his late father.

Again, Uddhav doesn't want to play second fiddle to BJP in Maharashtra. So, Shiv Sena — which has no mass leader presently — needs an emotional issue that suits their ideology and also serves the party to strengthen its base. The Ram Temple, an emotional issue to the majority community, has presently provided Shiv Sena the much-needed opportunity. Shiv Sena is sensing that the Ram Temple issue will help the party gain votes in Maharashtra and may be helpful to gain some outside the state too.

Uddhav's hopes bolstered when BJP sealed the 50:50 seats agreement with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U). It is to be noted that in 2014, BJP bagged 22 seats and JD(U), contesting alone, had to be satisfied with only 2 seats. But this time both the parties agreed to contest together on 17 seats each — means BJP will be sacrificing 5 seats it won in 2014 for the sake of alliance. It is a clear indication from BJP that the party is not in a strong position as it was in 2014 and it cannot take the risk of ‘ekla cholo’ in crucial states like Maharashtra, the second most significant state with 48 seats after Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and Uddhav Thackeray is aware of the fact.

Given the current scenario, Shiv Sena will find it easier to deal with BJP than with the Congress and the other opposition parties. Additionally, the truth is BJP hasn't been too critical against Shiv Sena officially. BJP has always maintained that Shiv Sena is an important ally despite Saamna’s routine criticisms of the Modi government. So, politically, it is better for Shiv Sena to highlight Ram Temple and this is what Uddhav Thackeray is trying to pursue. With BJP's growing base in the state, Sena needs a strong emotional issue to prevent its voters from crossing towards the BJP, which is ideologically close to the party and pitch for Ram Temple will help Sena to maintain its core voters intact.

Besides for the BJP, Shiv Sena raising the Ram Temple issue vigorously is actually good news as this is the cause that unites them. More importantly, more talks of Temple will in reality help in neutralising the other core public concerns, which currently are in a position to damage BJP's electoral prospects in 2019. Then BJP will be having ‘strong’ reasons citing Shiv Sena and other saffron outfits’ demand as people’s true aspirations which propelled the government to take an action and would also help in bridging the gap between the two allies ahead of the elections. That’s why BJP also raised no concerns against Uddhav Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit.

BJP president Amit Shah had said the party will look for what happens in the Supreme Court when it hears the case in January. But the party too wants the temple momentum to remain in the ground. So, seems that it’s a well-planned strategy that both the parties — BJP and Shiv Sena — are actually trying to play the hard-Hindutva card to neutralise the anti-incumbency factor against them. After all, the 19th century philosopher Karl Marx was right — “Religion is the opium of the masses” and both BJP and Shiv Sena are aware of the power religion can play in the upcoming elections! (IPA Service)