Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next year, the issue of Ayodhya has gained fresh momentum and has taken centre stage.
The Narendra Modi-led BJP government is looking to develop an international museum and research centre dedicated to Ram and events from the Ramayana, about 15 kms from the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram janmabhoomi site. Tourism minister Mahesh Sharma is visiting Ayodhya on Tuesday to inspect the proposed site for the museum India Today reports. This has drawn stark criticism from the opposition.
His visit comes days after Modi participated in Dusshera festivities in Lucknow where he started and concluded his speech with chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram, Jai Jai Shri Ram.’
Last week, the Shiv Sena had asked the Modi government to start constructing the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, which followed the demand of BJP parliamentarian Subramanian Swamy and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia to begin the construction of a temple at the site where the Babri mosque was demolished by a Hindu mob on December 6, 1992.
BJP leader and parliamentarian Vinay Katiyar too raked up the issue and requested the Centre to introduce a bill in the parliament to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, saying the shrine was the BJP’s priority, Hindustan Times reports.
For its part, the ruling Samajwadi Party tried to counterbalance the BJP move with a decision to construct an international theme park in Ayodhya.
According to Times of India, the opposition parties on Monday accused the central government of setting the project in motion just a few months before the UP polls for political gains.
BSP chief Mayawati questioned the timing of Sharma’s visit and accused the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government of “linking religion with politics” and using it to gain “electoral benefits.”
“Linking religion with politics and electoral gains by these governments is condemnable… had they really been so concerned about these issues, they would have thought about them long ago,” she said. “Any such project should have started much before if they had the right intentions.”
According to Times of India, she also said that the proposed projects must not be allowed to affect the disputed site in Ayodhya as the issue was pending before the high court.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said the move by the Centre did not come as a surprise and that whenever elections approach, “BJP rakes up the Ram Mandir issue.”
Senior Congress member R.P.N. Singh backed Tewari by adding, “Every five years we see the same drama unfolding. Whenever there are polls in the state, they talk of Ram, Ram temple, Ram Sangrahalaya. They repeatedly raise these issues.”
The BJP on its part has insisted that the Ram temple will not be an electoral tool in their campaign for the UP elections.
Dismissing the criticism of opposition parties, Sharma said that there wasn’t a political agenda behind his visit and labelled it a part of improving tourism in Ayodhya.
“My visit to Ayodhya has nothing to do with the UP assembly elections. I am visiting as a tourism minister,” he told Indian Express. “It should not be linked to politics, it is part of the government’s effort to improve tourism in Ayodhya and all over the country.”
Sharma also took to Twitter to announce his visit.
Mayawati, however, countered him by saying in statement, “It is good to develop Ayodhya for tourism. But the Narendra Modi government has remembered to build a Ramayan museum in Ayodhya [only] when the dates of assembly elections are going to be announced soon.”
“Similarly, the UP cabinet has taken a decision to build a theme park in Ayodhya when it is time for the SP government to leave.”
Water resources minister Uma Bharti meanwhile, in a press conference on Monday, said that the disputed land “will always belong to Ram,” and said that there was no doubt that Ram was born in Ayodhya, News18 reports.
“Even the panel of three judges [of the Allahabad high court] have concurred that the land belongs to Ram temple. The challenge is the dispute between the Waqf board and the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas over possession of the land and not whether Ram was born there or not,” she said.
According to Hindustan Times, Bharti also promised that the Ayodhya issue will soon be resolved “without any hassles.”
According to India Today, Sharma said that the museum will be a part of the Ramayana circuit, for which the Centre has sanctioned Rs 225 crore with Rs 151 crore exclusively for Ayodhya and added that the government had identified three circuits – Ramayana Circuit, Krishna Circuit and Buddhist Circuit – to boost religious tourism.
Both projects, according to Indian Express, have been in the pipeline for a while.
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has also criticised the attempts of the BJP to rake up the Ram temple issue ahead of UP polls.
“There are reports that BJP is trying to rake up the Ram janmabhoomi issue to garner Hindu votes in Uttar Pradesh,” he said in a statement in Chennai.
(With PTI inputs)