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The contentious issue of Ram temple was suddenly back in the political discourse in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh today, a day ahead of Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma's visit to Ayodhya tomorrow to inspect the proposed site for setting up a Ramayana musuem, a move seen as an attempt to woo pro-Hinduvta elements.
BSP supremo Mayawati, a major contender to power in the key battleground state, Congress and the DMK criticised the move, saying it was being made for "electoral benefits".
The land for the proposed museum has been provided by the Uttar Pradesh government.
"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," she said in a release in Lucknow.
"Linking religion with politics and electoral gains by these governments is condemnable...Had they really been so concerned about these issues, they would have thought about them long ago," the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said.
Congress leader and former Union minister R P N Singh accused the Modi government and BJP of invoking Ram months ahead of the assembly polls due early next year for deriving political mileage out of it.
"We shouldn't be surprised. Every five years we see the same drama unfolding. Whenever polls are in the state, they talk of Ram, Ram temple, Ram sangrahalaya. They repeatedly raise these issues," he said.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of development but what about action....When there is election, he goes to Lucknow to participate in Dussehra festivities and chants 'Jai Shri Ram'. Did he say Jai Shri Ram during Dussehra events last year wherever he went?" he said.
The proposed museum revived the demand for construction of Ram temple, with BJP hardliners like Union Minister Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar pitching for it.
Katiyar went on to demand tabling of a legislation in the Lok Sabha where the BJP-led NDA has a "massive majority".
"Why only Subramanian Swamy, every devotee of Ram wants the temple to be constructed soon. Until that happens we cannot live in peace. Be it through a bill in Parliament, through dialogue or a court verdict, the government has to find a solution.
"Of course, we don't have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, but a bill for construction of the temple can be brought in the Lok Sabha where we have a massive majority. The Ram temple was also a part of BJP's election manifesto," he said, adding "no deadline can be set for the government on this issue".
Uma Bharti, another stormy petrel of the Ram temple movement, said, "The issue is what we, the agitators, were claiming as the place where Lord Ram was born was indeed that place or not. A three-judge bench (of Allahabad High Court) agreed with our contention.
"What is under challenge is the dispute over land between the Waqf Board and Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, not that whether Ram was born there or not," she said.
Mahesh Sharma, however, insisted his visit to Ayodhya had nothing to do with the UP polls, but said he would be visiting the makeshift temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex.
"My visit to Ayodhya has nothing to do with UP Assembly elections. I am visiting there as a Tourism Minister. It should not be linked to politics but is part of government's effort to improve tourism in Ayodhya and all over the country. The visit is part of developmental agenda," he said.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi also deprecated attempts to rake
up the Ram temple issue ahead of UP assemly polls.
"There are reports that BJP is trying to rake up the Ram janmabhoomi issue to garner Hindu votes in Uttar Pradesh," he said in a statement in Chennai.
The DMK patriarch took exception to Prime Minister Modi chanting 'Jai Sri Ram' at a Ram Leela event in Lucknow last week.
Karunanidhi, who had earlier triggered a row with his critical comments about Lord Ram made at the height of the Ramasethu controversy, also criticised the move to set up a Ramayana museum.
Sharma, while insisting that the project had nothing to do with politics, said the museum will be a part of the Ramayana Circuit for which the Centre has sanctioned Rs 225 crore, with Rs 151 crore exclusively for Ayodhya, which is the hub of the circuit.
"Ram is in the heart of millions of people. As the Tourism Minister, I have to see how Ayodhya can be developed, how Ramayana circuit can be developed from tourism point of view," the minister said.
He said the government has identified three circuits-- Ramayana Circuit, Krishna Circuit and Buddhist Circuit-- to boost religious tourism.
Sharma will also hold a meeting with Ramayana Circuit Advisory Board during the visit. The meeting would discuss routes for connecting Ramayana-related sites in Nepal and Sri Lanka with the proposed museum.
The Union Minister would also deliberate on plans for an International Ramayana Conclave, which would be held either in Ayodhya or Chitrakoot district. The conference is likely to be attended by delegates from about 12 countries, sources said.
Sharma is likely to hold meetings with religious leaders on building the museum which would portray the epic journey of Lord Rama.
He said his Ayodhya visit was planned two months back and had nothing to do with the UP assembly elections, which were "planned five years ago".
When asked if the museum will be inaugurated ahead of the UP polls, Sharma said,"It is a continuous process. It will involve development of ghats, infrastructure etc."
Asked to comment on Katiyar's demand for bringing a bill in Parliament for construction of the temple, he said,"I am an Indian first. I am going there as a trourism Minister. Ram temple is on (BJP's) agaida, but (commenting on Katiyar's demand) is not within my purview as Tourism Minister."
On whether he would visit the makeshift temple during his visit, the Minister said,"Well, the Ramlalla site...There is my spiritual devotion to the place. Millions of devotees visit there for that purpose....I will be going there."
Though the BJP has been insisting that Ram temple will not be an electoral plank in the UP elections to be held early next year, the proposed Ramayana museum and related activities are being seen as an attempt to keep pro-Hindutva elements in good humour.
On Dusshera, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in a departure from tradition, participated in the festivities in Lucknow where he started and concluded his speech with chants of "Jai Shri Ram, Jai Jai Shri Ram".