Lord Ram the key theme as Chhattisgarh’s Congress govt celebrates two years in office
Amid tribal protests in Bastar, the Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh marked its two years in office with a four-day bike rally and a Rath Yatra that ended on Thursday. Interestingly, the event culminated in Raipur’s Chankhuri town, the birthplace of Lord Ram’s mother Kaushalya, amid allegations that the Congress was politicising the deity.
The government started Paryatan Rath Yatra and a bike rally on December 14 from Sitamarhi-Harchaika in Koriya district in north of the state and Ramaram in Sukma district, covering a distance of 1,575 kilometers.
“Lord Ram spent most of his time in Chhattisgarh and hence, we have decided to develop those places...It is part of our culture and identity and people of the world should know this,” said Baghel, addressing the event in Chankhuri.
“ … Nowadays, people who want to collect money and votes also take the name of Lord Ram... No one can teach us about Lord Ram, He is of the poor and farmers,” said Baghel.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the party was dividing Lord Ram for political gains. “The Congress is dividing Ram as ours and theirs for political gains. It is the same Congress which rejected the presence of Lord Ram. It is a welcome move that now, they have accepted that they cannot move ahead without Lord Ram’s blessings,” state BJP president Vishnu Deo Sai said.
In August this year, the state government had launched an ambitious Ram Van Gaman tourist circuit project in the state in which nine sites were selected for the first phase.The sites are: Sitamarhi-Harchaika (Koriya), Ramgarh (Ambikapur), Shivrinarayan (Janjgir-Champa), Turturiya (Baloda Bazar), Chandkhuri (Raipur), Rajim (Gariaband), Sihawa-Saptarishi Ashram (Dhamtari), Jagdalpur (Bastar) and Ramaram (Sukma).
The December 14 rally was organised to collect soil from these cities for the plantation work in Chankhuri town to mark two years of Congress government.
The rally was opposed by tribal leaders in Sukma and Kanker district of Bastar region, who claimed that the development of these under the Ram Van Gaman project was against their customs.
“Bastar comes under PESA hence no one can collect soil or anything without the permission of locals. Secondly, the development of these sites will encourage the entry of outsiders who will, over time, dominate tribal culture. We don’t want anyone to interfere with our customs and culture,” said Sohan Potai, former Member of Parliament and leader of Sarv Adivasi Samaj, Kanker district.
Responding to the allegations, chief minister’s advisor Vinod Verma said, “There is some misinformation.. We are developing the places which are already there and trying to encourage tourism in the area. Secondly, there are ancient Hindu temples in Bastar which suggest that Hinduism isn’t new to the region... Both Hindu and tribal culture have existed for ages.”
Political commentators said that Congress is trying to project Lord Ram as a religious symbol to connect with the majority. “Besides being a religious symbol to help the Congress present a majority-friendly face, Ram has become a sort of economic exigency for the fund-starved government in Chhattisgarh. The state has got more landmarks and mythological footprints of Ram and other characters from Ramayan than any other state,” said Parivesh Mishra, a political commentator based in Chhattisgarh.
Mishra added that the prospects of religious tourism makes economic sense for Chhattisgarh. “The subject has the potential of becoming the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) for tourism. It is not a coincidence that Dandakaranya forest -- where Ram is believed to have spent most of his time during the 14-year exile -- is the core area of Maoist activities. The development of tourism will perhaps be the most non-intrusive vehicle of development in the area,” he said.