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Opposition Leaders Plan Alternate Religious Programmes on January 22

Opposition Leaders Plan Alternate Religious Programmes on January 22

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: As the Prime Minister Narendra Modi perform the consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, various opposition leaders who have announced skipping the “BJP-centric political event” have planned various temple visit programmes on that day to shield against being discarded by voters as “anti-Hindu.”

The “Pran Pratishtha” ceremony of the Ram Temple just weeks before the Lok Sabha elections expected in April-May, in a mega spectacle is being billed by the ruling BJP as the “fulfilment of a divine dream of the millions of Hindus” accompanied by big-ticket infrastructure projects in and around the town such as a new airport and a refurbished railway station.

The list of invitees for the grand Ram Temple Ayodhya event is long – reportedly over 10,000 – but exclusive; in fact, it is so select that it excludes all of the BJP’s chief ministers, except for Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand right-wing leader in whose state, Uttar Pradesh, the temple is being built.

The opposition INDIA bloc’s reaction to the ‘pran pratishtha‘ consecration ceremony has made headlines too, with members criticising the BJP for politicising a religious event. The Congress declined its invite saying “religion is a personal matter,” its former president Rahul Gandhi called it a “Narendra Modi function.” The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee whose Trinamool Congress is an implacable enemy of the BJP, also underlined the religion-politics divide.

The Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray have also turned down invitations, criticising, some more subtly than others, the BJP’s rush to consecrate an under-construction temple and accusing it of looking to bolster its vote bank.

The opposition, though, is aware it cannot fully neglect the Ram Temple ceremony as to do so would alienate too many voters in its bid to defeat the BJP this year. Therefore, the Congress, Ms Banerjee, Mr Thackeray, and the others will headline events of their own on January 22.

The Bengal Chief Minister has shot down reporters’ questions about “various temples” declaring, “I have nothing to say about it… religion is a personal issue.” She did, though, say she planned to visit the Kalighat Mahakali temple in Kolkata on January 22, and then hold a “communal harmony rally.”

The rally will include people from all communities and touch base at temples, churches, gurudwaras, and mosques on its route before concluding with a meeting at south Kolkata’s Park Circus Maidan.

Rahul Gandhi currently leading his second cross-country Yatra – the Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra from Manipur to Mumbai, will be in Assam on January 22 and will visit a temple as part of the day’s activities.

Mr Pawar has been more circumspect in his response, expressing gratitude for the invitation but saying he would not attend but will visit Ayodhya later since “it will be easier to get darshan after the historic event” and with a swipe at the BJP added, “By then Ram Temple construction will also be complete,” an insinuation against the ruling party for hurrying to inaugurate an incomplete temple against the Hindu tradition only for votes in the Parliamentary elections. The Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has also taken a similar stand.

The Aam Aadmi Party boss and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has not yet been invited, and is not expected to now, but has announced ‘Sundar Kand’ and ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ programmes across the national capital on a regular basis to project his Hindu image. “I pray to Lord Ram and Hanuman all of your wishes are granted…” he said on Wednesday.”

The former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has also not yet received an invitation. However, Mr Thackeray has said he and his party leaders would visit the “Kalaram Temple” in Nashik on January 22, and perform a “maha aarti.” Dedicated to Lord Ram, the temple is named for the idol carved out of black stone. It is believed Ram stayed in Panchavati, which is in the Nashik area, with Sita and Lakshman during their exile.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, the founder and patriarch of the RJD that is part of Bihar’s ruling coalition, said Wednesday that he would not attend either, and Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK has already slammed the BJP for hijacking a spiritual event to “divert the attention of the people” before an election. The Left, led by the CPIM, was among the first of the opposition to make its position clear; as early as last month the CPIM’s Brinda Karat said her party would skip the event. “No, we will not go. We respect the religious beliefs… but they are connecting a religious programme with politics,” she had said.

Amid the build-up for the Ram Temple ceremony, Odisha has big plans for the unveiling of the Jagannath Heritage Corridor, a strategic move by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD to not only boost religious sentiments but also outmanoeuvre the BJP in the state. The state has invested over ₹ 4,000 crore, in a monumental endeavour under the ‘Ama Odisha, Nabin Odisha’ scheme aimed at transforming Puri’s infrastructure.

The Ram Temple – still being built – will cost, by most estimates, nearly ₹ 2,000 crore and is widely expected to be the centrepiece of the BJP’s campaign for the April/May general election.

Rahul Gandhi who led his “Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra” into Nagaland, attacked the prime minister on Wednesday accusing him of doing nothing to bring about a solution to the Naga political issue for nine years after the Framework Agreement was signed in 2015.

Addressing a public rally at Nagaland’s Mokokchung town, Mr Gandhi said a solution to the problem cannot be brought without having the trust of the Naga people, and without a discussion with them. Attacking the Prime Minister, he said, “If you don’t have a solution, you should not lie and say you have a solution. You can say that we have to work towards the solution and we will work towards the solution but you must not lie to the Naga people.”

He said that the Congress understands that the issue is serious and a solution was required. Referring to the Framework Agreement, the former Congress president said, “What the Prime Minister promised nine years ago is an empty vow to the Naga people.” He asserted that his party was committed to a solution to the decades-old Naga Political Issue.

The Naga insurgency began in 1947. To find a solution to the decades-old problem, the Centre has been holding separate negotiations with NSCN-IM since 1997 and the Working Committee of Naga National Political Group (NNPG), comprising at least seven groups, since 2017.

The Modi Government inked a Framework Agreement with NSCN-IM in 2015 and Agreed Position with NNPGs in 2017. However, the final solution is yet to be attained with NSCN-IM remaining adamant on its demand for a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas.

 

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