While the Modi government is planning to build a museum dedicated to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in Ayodhya, the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh has approved the building of a Ramleela Theme Park in red sandstone in the holy city.
Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma announced the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre's plan to build the Ramayana museum in Ayodhya on Monday, just ahead of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's cabinet approving plans for the theme park. Both parties say that their respective projects are aimed at promoting culture and tourism.
Observers and political rivals have reacted to their claims with a pinch of skepticism, considering that the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is now only a few months away, and parties routinely try to polarise voters on religious lines ahead of the polls.
It was in Ayodhya that Hindu mobs led by Hindutva leaders demolished the 16-century Babri Masjid in 1992, plunging the nation into one of the darkest period of religious violence since Independence. Ahead of the national election in 2014, communal riots claimed the lives of more than 60 people and displaced over 50,000, mostly Muslims, in the districts of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar.
The Centre has identified a 25 acre plot for the museum, around 15 kilometers away from the disputed site where the Babri Masjid once stood. Hindus believe that this the spot where Lord Ram was born, and that Mughal emperor Babur had demolished a temple dedicated to the Hindu god in order to build his mosque. Muslims believe that Hindus snuck into the mosque in 1949, and placed an idol of Lord Ram inside it.
Mocking his own party's plans today, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha lawmaker Vinay Katiyar described the museum as a "lollipop" and called for the construction of the temple. "There should be efforts to build the Ram Mandir, nothing will happen with this lollipop," he told ANI.
Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati questioned the "intentions" of her political rivals. "Attempts at taking political mileage by linking religion with politics is condemnable. And if their intentions were good, these projects would have started earlier," she said in a statement.
The former chief minister of UP also pointed that the matters relating to the disputed site are still pending in the Supreme Court. "There is a trend of inaugurating incomplete projects in the state by the central and the state governments, which is just a theatrics to befool the voters," she said.
Ayodhya is the central point of the Ramayana circuit which the Modi government is planning to build in Uttar Pradesh at the cost of Rs. 250 crores. Sharma has previously said that his visit to Ayodhya on Tuesday is to promote tourism, and that it should not be linked to politics. "My visit to Ayodhya has nothing to do with Assembly elections," he said.
Earlier this month, Sharma condoled with the family of Ravi Sisodia, an accused in Mohammad Akhlaq's lynching case, who died in a hospital while he was in judicial custody. The union minister has also contributed to compensation package which state officials had to negotiate with Sisodia's family members after they refused to cremate him. Instead, they wrapped his body in the national flag while Hindu right-wing leaders made fiery speeches in their village in western UP.
The BJP has dropped the Ram Temple in Ayodhya from its talking points ahead of the state polls, but that has not stopped its hardline leaders as well as associates in right-wing groups from keeping the issue alive.
Earlier this year, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha lawmaker Subramanian Swamy said that he was confident of the Ram Temple being built in Ayodhya by 2017, and just this week, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said that the disputed land "will always belong to Ram."
The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke from the tradition of prime ministers celebrating the festival of Dussehra in Delhi, and went to Lucknow, is also being viewed in the light of BJP's campaign for the state polls. The speech which he gave at the Ramleela Maidan at Aishbagh started and ended with the chant of "Jai Sriram."
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