Congress’ balancing act in Rajasthan: Navigating Ram Temple and Hindutva
With its proactive approach in getting mining clearance from the Centre for a particular stone being used in the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, the Rajasthan government is sending a signal on how the Congress will navigate the issue of Hindutva, according to party leaders and political observers.
Pink sandstone mined from the Banshi Pahadpur hills in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan was being supplied to Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram temple. Mining in this area was banned after it was notified as a sanctuary in December 1996. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had been pressuring the Bharatpur district administration for resuming the supply of the stone since September-October 2020, soon after the process of temple construction began.
Sensing the issue might snowball against it, the Congress-led state government, at the end of January, initiated the process to de-notify the forest area. A survey, which had found that there were no animals or forests in the area, was made the basis for seeking the de-notification from the Union ministry of forest and environment. In seeking the de-notification after a 24-year ban, the Congress government apparently did not want to be seen as a hurdle in the construction of the temple.
Earlier, this month, the student outfit of Congress, National Students’ Union of India launched a campaign, ₹1 Ram Ke Naam, to collect monetary contributions from students for the construction of the temple.
The Rajasthan government’s move has prompted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to claim that it showed that the Congress had accepted Hindutva. For its part, the Congress has claimed that it was the original proponent of the Ram Temple and is keen to take credit for respecting the Hindu faith.
Transport Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said, “If the stone is going for Ram temple, then what is wrong with it? The Congress is not anti-Hindu, and we all believe in Ram. The Congress is always into positive politics and respects all religions. We are happy that the stone from Rajasthan is being used in building the temple. We have never stopped any work. The BJP stalls work, and Congress starts it.”
A second minister in the Ashok Gehlot government, who did not wish to be named, said illegal mining was rampant in the area and seeking a de-notification was a long pending demand of the labourers and traders. “There is no flora and fauna, and reserving the area was of no use. There is no other way of employment in this area. Earlier also proposals to de-notify the mining were submitted but nothing happened. But now, the government of India wants stone and state wants revenue and employment,” he said.
But he admitted that with denotification, the party was also trying to send the political message across India that it was not anti-temple as being projected by the BJP. “It was during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure that doors of Babri Masjid were reopened, and prayers were allowed,” he said.
VHP state general secretary Suresh Upadhyay said they welcomed the government’s response on the matter. “We had urged the government to send proposal to the government of India to de-notify the area. We welcome the state and Central governments’ response, who promptly acted on the request, which paved way for the Ram temple,” he said
A BJP lawmaker on condition of anonymity said the demand for stone was long-pending and made by many Hindu outfits. “The temple has to be made in a time-bound manner and requires stone. If the state stalled or delayed [the de-notification], certainly the opposition would flare the issue in and outside the assembly,” he said.
State BJP chief Satish Poonia concurred, “Our party unit, social organisations, and saints had approached the administration for the supply of the stone. The memorandums had been submitted to the administration. Besides, the government had this apprehension that delay would make it an issue.”
Political analyst Shyam Sunder Sharma said the Congress and BJP both need the Hindutva issue politically. “The Rajasthan chief minister is an experienced leader, and wise enough to foresee that any delay in such issues can give the opposition a chances to corner them. The CM doesn’t want that the opposition to accuse the government of delaying the process or being a hurdle in the temple construction.”
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