Union minister Mahesh Sharma on Tuesday put on fast track a proposed Ramayana museum in Ayodhya, in what appeared to be a growing move by political parties to reopen the debate over the divisive Ram temple issue ahead of assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Though no party would say it officially yet, statements by leaders of different ideologies, including chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, indicated that the contentious issue was set to gather traction ahead of the vote early next year.
Sharma, the Union minister for culture and tourism, denied any political agenda behind the museum but took the opportunity to reiterate the party’s promise of constructing the temple.
“I know many wonder kab hoga, kaise hoga (when and how it will happen)...But I wish to assure you that when the intention is pure, there is never any doubt about the result,” he said. The government is also planning to hold an international Ramayana conclave in December.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Katiyar was more forceful, describing the museum as a “lollipop” and asserting that nothing short of building a Ram temple would satisfy the faithful.
Katiyar’s comments came in the backdrop of several BJP and pro-Hindutva leaders prodding the Narendra Modi government on the issue which had pitchforked the BJP to power, both in UP and at the Centre in the 1990s.
A day before Sharma’s visit to Ayodhya , Akhilesh Yadav announced a Ramleela theme park at the historic city where a where a Hindu mob demolished the historic Babri Masjid on December 2, 1992. Right-wing Hindu organisations say Ram was born at the spot and the temple must be built there.
Lord Ram now presents a unique challenge for political parties trying to keep their vote banks intact in the complex electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh where caste and community often play a crucial role in deciding the winner.
The Ramleela theme park is seen as Akhilesh’s way of trying to woo Hindu voters without hurting the Muslim electorate. For the BJP -- attempting to capture power in the state after 14 years -- presenting the museum as the first step towards the temple could keep its core constituency happy. And by keeping the temple out of its official agenda, the party hopes to send out the right message to the minority community.
Sharma’s visit came days after Prime Minister Modi participated in Dussehra festivities in Lucknow where he started and concluded his speech with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”.
On Monday, Union water resources minister Uma Bharti too raised the issue saying there was no dispute over Ayodhya being Ram’s birthplace and that the disagreement was only over ownership of the land.
Earlier, BJP ally Shiv Sena and controversial Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had also asked the Modi government to start construction of the Ram temple immediately.
With the BJP under fire from by its political opponents of attempting a “dangerous strategy to communalise voters”, Mahesh Sharma questioned the SP government’s theme park.
“Why should the same charge not be levelled against them?”
(With agency inputs)