As Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised a full-throated religious cry and chanted Jai Sri Ram at the Aishbag Ramleela ground in Lucknow last week, probably a first by any prime minister so far, opposition cried foul and said that Modi tried to hijack a religious event to serve his party's "political ends".
"The BJP should not use the religious occasion for furthering its political motives...his trip to Lucknow for Dusherra seems a bit illogical," Samajwadi Party spokesman Ashok Bajpai was quoted as saying by PTI last week. Modi's mention of Ram on Dussehra was a shot in the arm for all the party workers, including Sangh workers, who have been waiting for the construction of the famed Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
Ayodhya and creation of a Ram temple at the janmabhoomi has been BJP's dream plan since the party took shape as a political party in 1980. And as campaigning has started to gain dust in Uttar Pradesh, the state BJP leaders think that the time is ideal for Modi to announce building the temple. "For how long will Ram Lalla be covered with tarpaulin ?" Vinay Katiyar, founder-president of Bajrang Dal and a pro-temple voice told Bhupendra Chaubey of News 18. Even though the issue remains sub-judice in Supreme Court, BJP leaders think the central leadership should at least let the people know that a temple construction is in the offing.
As argued by this piece in Firstpost, even as Opposition saw red in Modi's speech in Lucknow and alleged that he tried to score brownie points ahead of the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, the Prime Minister managed to avoid political landmines and delivered a strong blow to Pakistan. But the mention of 'Ram' was enough to send several political parties, fringe Hindu groups, who are in favour of the construction of the Ram Temple and the media into a tizzy. The fact that Ayodhya will be a critical poll agenda in Uttar Pradesh is not new. BJP knows it. BSP and SP know it. Even Congress knows it. And all the parties are doing their bit by furthering this agenda in their own way.
Ruling Samajwadi Party got into the competitive politics with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav giving a go-ahead for the release funds to develop amenities for tourists in the temple town, and construction of a Ram Theme Park in Ayodhya.
BSP chief Mayawati on Monday criticised the BJP-led central government's decision to build a Ramayana Museum in Ayodhya and the Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh government's plan to construct a Ramleela Theme Park there as only for electoral gains.
"Decision to build a Ramayana Museum and Ramleela Theme Park in Ayodhya by the BJP and the SP just before the assembly elections shows their intentions," the BSP chief said in a statement.
She also said that these promises would remain unfulfilled due to the lack of the budget.
"Attempts at taking political mileage by linking religion with politics is condemnable. And if their intentions were good, these projects would have started earlier," Mayawati said.
Ayodhya is becoming a defining test of Modi's ability to navigate a tension central to his administration: appeasing Hindu nationalist activists who corral votes for the ruling BJP while preventing them from derailing his pro-business growth agenda. As for their part, senior BJP leaders like Union Minister Uma Bharti and Mahesh Sharma have brought the issue to the forefront by strongly pitching for the need of a Ram Temple. On Tuesday, Sharma, who was in Ayodhya to inspect the site for the Ram museum said, "fortunate are those who get a chance to do Ram ka kaam (serve Ram)". The minister earlier had refuted assertions that "Ramayana museum" was being planned for the communally-sensitive town of Ayodhya is the political agenda of BJP.
"Mann ban chuka hai, mahaul ban chuka hai (The intent is clear and the atmosphere is ready). The beginning has been made and we have got the directives from Ram Lalla," he said, adding, "We are the Lord's children and so have to do his work of spreading education."
"If anyone gets a chance to work for Bhagwan Ram he is most fortunate...it will be good fortune if Bhagwan Ram gives us a chance to do Ram ka kaam and this responsibility has been given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the people of the country," Sharma said during his visit here to inspect the proposed site for setting up a Ramayana museum.
Bharti said "that disputed land in Ayodhya belongs to the Ram Temple". She is also likely to flag off one of the four Parivartan Yatras being planned by the party in the run-up to the state elections, reported News18.
Right wing organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Prashad say a temple must be built where the mosque once stood because that is the exact spot where Lord Ram was born. While campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed on the development and economic growth, and his government has avoided giving hardliners within the party licence to talk of constructing a new temple.
Political experts have argued that BJP, or for that matter any political party, cannot be blamed to use the issue of Ram Temple, during a highly-charged UP elections. An election on the soil of Uttar Pradesh without the mention of Ayodhya or the Ram Temple is almost unthinkable as it unites a majority of the Hindus and the upper-class voters of the state. But it is almost safe to say that BJP will use it as a crucial scheme in the upcoming elections. But whether promises be transformed into work, is left to be seen.
Katiyar, who had on Monday demanded that a bill will be brought in the Lok Sabha for the creation of Ram temple, today said no positive efforts were being made for the construction of the temple and only "lollipop" was being offered to the devotees of the deity.
"A race is on...somebody is building a museum, somebody else (the Akhilesh Yadav government) a Ramleela Theme Park. We welcome development of Ayodhya, but everything is useless without the construction of Ram temple. We cannot compromise on that.
"No positive steps are being taken for building Ram temple, which is the core job that needs to be done. The Samajwadi Party government shot dead the Kar Sevaks and now it is offering lollipop in the form of a theme park," Katiyar, a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha who once represented Faizabad, the district where Ayodhya is located, in Parliament, said.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was quoted by PTI as saying, "Come election, come Ram Mandir issue. This is what BJP has as a strategy. Nobody is against the temple. I am a practising Hindu, but even Lord Ram would not have wanted a temple in the atmosphere of dispute. BJP has been trying to fool all the people all the time."
With inputs from PTI and IANS