What is the politics behind the Union government’s proposal to construct a multi-crore futuristic Ramayana museum in Ayodhya? With Uttar Pradesh going to polls early next year, the mythological Ram is back in the political discourse fighting the BJP’s battle with the political parties. The BJP, of course, denies that it is a political agenda but is this for vote catching, or is it for the promotion of tourism as claimed, or is it to satisfy the BJP’s core voters?
UP is known for its caste and communal politics, and it is only expected that Ayodhya would occupy the centre stage even after 25 years of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. BJP knows that it difficult now to attract votes in the name of yet to be constructed Ram Temple but still invoking Lord Ram is essential which is why now the Ramayana Museum is coming up.
As soon as the Centre announced its Ramayana museum plan, the ruling Samajwadi Party has also begun vying for a share of Ayodhya. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had recently announced a "world class" theme park in Ayodhya's proposed Ram Lila Centre. In August, he had approved the construction of an amphitheatre. The SP has also shown interest in renovating Hindu shrines in Ayodhya, Mathura, and Varanasi to boost tourism.
The ensuing Assembly polls are important for the Congress, which is trying to revive in the state where it had its last Chief Minister in 1989. The BSP, too, is still to recover from its humiliation in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when it did not get a single seat. With the anti-incumbency staring in the face of the UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and the family feuds hurting the party, the BSP and the BJP are both poised to bid for power.
Though the BJP has been insisting that Ram temple will not be an electoral plank in the UP polls, the proposed Ramayana museum is being seen as an attempt to keep pro-Hindutva elements in good humour. The hint that the BJP’s campaign would include Ram was given during Dussehra when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended his speech at the Ramlila function with “Jai Shree Ram” in Lucknow. What better way than to invoke Lord Rama, who is very secure in the hearts and minds and prayers of millions of Indians, whether he was a historical or mythological figure or not!
While the opposition may accuse the BJP of a political game plan, the saffron party has cleverly camouflaged it by making it appear as tourist promotion rather than a political move. The government also proposes to hold an international Ramayana conference with the participation of 12 countries.
To make it broad-based, the Ministry of Culture has identified the Buddhist circuit, the Ramayana circuit, and the Krishna circuit. The budget allocation for the Ramayana circuit is Rs 225 crores of which the allocation for Ayodhya museum Rs 151 crore. The other two spots on the Ramayan circuit are at Chitrakoot (Rs 43 crores) and Shringuverpur in Phulpur (Rs 23 crores.) The Uttar Pradesh government has provided the land for the proposed museum. The Ramayan circuits in all the three places are expected to energise the hardcore Hindus in the state. Ayodhya attracts over a crore of tourists in the domestic circuit. This time, it will be Hindutva by package tour.
As expected, the museum proposal has revived the demand within the BJP for the construction of Ram temple at the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi / Babri Masjid site with hardline BJP leaders like Vinay Katiyar and Water Resources Development minister Uma Bharti pitching for it. Justifying the demand for temple Uma Bharti has noted that “what is under challenge is the dispute over land between the Wakf Board and Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, not whether Ram was born there or not.”
So it was not surprising that the Congress and the BSP didn’t waste a single moment to hit out at the Centre and UP government accusing them of politicising the matter ahead of elections. Smelling a political conspiracy, the BSP supremo Mayawati has said, “Developing tourism in Ayodhya is good but, how come the Narendra Modi government thought of developing the Ramayana Sangrahalay (museum) and the state government of Ramleela theme park just before the Assembly polls”.
Far away in the south, the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who had earlier triggered a row with critical remarks about Lord Ram at the height of Ramsethu, has now questioned the motive of the BJP in building the Ramayana museum. The DMK is an atheist party.
The Congress, which has been trying to woo the Hindus with the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visiting the Hindu temples before the polls, cannot openly oppose the Ramayana museum but at the same time also want to expose the ulterior motive of the BJP in going for this measure. The party’s Chief Ministerial candidate Sheila Dixit noted, “Why is it happening at a time like this when elections are a few months away. We are not against it; everybody worships Lord Ram, but the timing is crucial. It gives it a communal touch. The venue is Ayodhya. It will impact UP."
Whether the opposition parties like it or not, Ram has entered the poll scene. How much he can help the saffron party is yet to be seen, but the BJP proposes to use the Hindutva card directly or indirectly to consolidate its Hindu vote bank to bid for power.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)