In the name of the Lord in these Congress-ruled states too

Congress-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have taken a gamble on reviving the country’s spiritual and cultural construct using religious sites.

Published: 08th December 2019 08:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th December 2019 11:13 AM   |  A+A-

Ayodhya Ram Temple site.

Ayodhya Ram Temple site. (File Photo | AFP)

There is a flurry of activity in states across North India in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya with places associated with Valmiki Ramayan being marked out for development.

Uttar Pradesh is building a new Rs 2,000 crore city-Ikshvakupuri- a revenue-generating hub for a religious tourism circuit, while in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress governments are busy identifying the route which Lord Ram took in exile. Even Bihar, where Sita was born, is not an exception. But beyond the obvious is a sharp competitive politics at play, as the deep dive into the semantics show.

At a time when all things which connect to Hindutva have politically emerged as sensitive, yet practical in political praxis, Congress-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have taken a gamble on reviving the country’s spiritual and cultural construct using religious sites.

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The two states have come out with elaborate plans to develop the Ramayan circuit – more as a soft Hindutva political counter-aimed at cutting into the BJP’s narrative of being the sole claimant to all things Hindu. Even Bihar, led by BJP’s Socialist ally, the Janata Dal (U), is not behind.

The impact of the Supreme Court verdict clearing the path for the building of a temple in Ayodhya has given a fillip to the Yogi Adityanath led-UP government to declare grandiose schemes to develop Ramayan sites to further embed BJP to the potential disadvantage of the Congress, Mayawati-led BSP and Akhilesh Singh-led Samajwadi Party.

Competitive politics

“The alacrity with which Congress-ruled states have got into the act to cut the BJP’s ground speaks of a new assertion by the party’s regional satraps to secure battlegrounds, notwithstanding the conflict with its central command which may be disapproving of ‘communal’ moves in public but agrees in private,” says former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, Dr DM Diwakar.

“It’s as the Congress has now fully realised that isolationism with secularism does not take it far and ‘opening up’, or at least allowing regional leaders to practice soft Hindutva as a bridge to its lost constituencies in states, would not hurt,” Dr Diwakar adds.

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The ‘aggression’ in drumming up their intention to chart new political territory with the use of faith shows up in Chhattisgarh, where CM Bhupesh Baghel has decided to develop 51 sites where, he claims, Lord Ram had spent some 10 out of 14 years of exile.

We are Hindu too!

Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu said, “Why shouldn’t we develop the sites? Is it only up to the BJP? We do not believe in lip service but in actually walking the talk.”

“Lord Ram is referred to as the “first tourist” to have entered Chhattisgarh, mentioned variously as ‘Dakshin Kaushal’ and ‘Dandakaranya.’ The Valmiki Ramayan cites his travels in exile through Dandakaranya over 10 years, before proceeding further south.

The government is now keen to revive 51 of 75 sites identified as key locations connected to Lord Ram in exile and develop the ‘Ram Van Gaman Path,’ based on references in the ‘Dandakaranya Ramayan,” he said.  Chhattisgarh claims that Lord Ram entered the present Chhattisgarh state at Sitamadhi-Harchauka in Koriya district and then spent considerable time in the districts of Koriya, Ambikapur, Jashpur, Janjgir-Champa, Bilaspur, Mahasamund, Raipur, Dhamtari, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Dantewada and Sukma.

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“A concept plan of Rs 92.32 crore has been chalked out to develop these areas and a survey committee has been tasked to spruce up eight major locations - Sitamadhi-Harchaika, Ramgarh, Shivrinarayan, Turturiya, Chankhuri, Rajim, Sihawa and Jagdalpur,” said Anbalagan P, special secretary, state tourism department.

Working the legends

Some of the legends associated with Ramayan like that of Surpanakha-Ravan’s sister- whose nose was cut off by Laxman and that of Sabri, a tribal woman, who offered wild berries to Lord Ram, are believed to be associated with Chhattisgarh sites, said Iffat Ara, managing director, Chhattisgarh Tourism Board.
She said, the only temple to Kaushalya (mother of Lord Ram) in the country is at Chandrakhuri, about 30 km from Raipur.

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In adjacent Madhya Pradesh ruled by Congress CM Kamal Nath, Ramayan sites have received largesse like never before. Aiming to trace the footprints of the holy trinity Ram-Sita-Laxman and develop them as a major religious tourist circuit, “the government has planned a 350-km long ‘Ram Van Gaman Path’ from Chitrakoot in Satna district to Amarkantak in Anuppur district and earmarked Rs 22 crore for the initial mapping of the project,” said,” said MP Minister for Spirituality Department PC Sharma.“We are Hindus.  Besides reinforcing our faith, if such policies shore up the party against the BJP, what’s the harm,” wondered another senior leader.

Chitrakoot, the nucleus

“The CM has told us to develop Chitrakoot town in Satna as the nucleus of the Spiritual Circuit,” said Sharma, adding that “its Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama is a must for any Ram bhakt besides Ram Ghat (where Lord Ram took holy dips in Mandakini river), Bharat Milap Mandir (where Bharat met Lord Ram) and Hanuman Dhara - a spring located on the hilltop said to have been created by Lord Ram to soothe Hanuman.

It also houses Gupt Godavari caves with two natural throne-like rocks and the Sati Anusuiya Ashram -where Sati Anusuiya explained to Sita the grandeur and importance of Satitva- besides Laxman Pahari, Rammuhalla, Mukharbindu, Sakshi Gopal and Peeli Kothi,” Sharma said.

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The planned route will touch parts of Panna district, Badhwara (Katni), Ram Ghat on banks of river Narmada (Jabalpur), Dindori district which houses riverside site of Laxman Madwa, Shahdol, Ram Mandir Talab and Ramnagar in Mandla district. The circuit will end at Amarkantak, which is the origin of river Narmada – the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh.

It’s not only the Ram Van Gaman Path circuit which features high on Kamal Nath government’s agenda, but the government has targeted construction of 3,000 gaushalas to ensure that no stray cattle is left homeless by 2020, besides funding construction of permanent stages for Ramlilas under 378 local urban bodies with a three-fold hike in honorarium to priests of around 21,000 temples in the state.

Soft Hindutva?

Also, MP has decided to develop the Mahakal temple complex in Ujjain at the cost of Rs 300 crore on the lines of Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple expansion and Ganga Corridor project and given nod to the Rs 156-crore Omkareshwar Temple development project in Khandwa district which houses the Ramraja Temple dedicated to Lord Ram and is considered the Ayodhya of Madhya Pradesh.

Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi said, “It’s not Hindutva or soft-Hindutva politics. We are doing what we have already promised in our assembly poll manifesto. We’re true Sanatanis who believe in actual Ram Rajya as opposed to BJP which only espouses Hindutva to attain political capital.”
BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal said, “The Congress’s initiatives, including Ram Van Gaman Path or the Mahakal Temple development complex are our unfinished projects on which the Congress has now embarked, claiming it to be its brainchild. It won’t win votes over BJP.”

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In Bihar too, the government has chalked out a Ramayan Circuit to link places associated with Lord Ram and his consort Sita-both by road and rail and connect up to Nepal’s Janakpur Dham, close to Sitamarhi, where Sita is believed to have been born. A Rs 103-crore proposal drawn up in 2018 has been revived and sent to the Centre for sanction.A Tourism Department official said sites such as Panth-Pakar dham in Sitamarhi, the Gautam kund in Darbhanga, Girijasthan in Madhubani, Nadava, Barka-Nuaav, Bhabhhar and Charit-Van in Buxar district are to be linked.

Sita Swayamvara

Secretary of Mahavir Temple Trust, Patna, Acharya Kishor Kunal said, “I had drawn a map based on authentic sources. Lord Ram’s crossing of Ganga from Ram Rekha Ghat accompanied by his guru Rishi Vishwamitra, their route to Janakpur and Sitamarhi to attend Sita-swayamvar etc were mapped out,” he said. Bihar’s tourism minister Krishan Kumar Rishi detailed sites in eight districts-Sitamarhi,

Darbhanga, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Buxar, Patna and Chhapra, which are to be developed.
There is some urgency now with the Bihar government to bring the sites on the religious map, but social analysts like Diwakar say, “The competitive politics is most obvious”.“The emphasis on Ramayan sites in Bihar is very unlike Nitish Kumar’s party, which despite its alliance with BJP has nothing in common with it. The fact remains, that the JD(U)is keeping its options open and looking for political tools to bargain while neutralizing the Hindutva impact”, he said.

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However, the speed with which UP government has moved to showcase Ayodhya has not been missed. There is the realization that the idea is a revenue spinner with the political capital safely assured.

Right after assuming power in Delhi in 2014 and appointment of Yogi Adityanath as CM in UP, the BJP had set its focus on the creation of the ‘Ramayan Circuit’ which has gathered momentum post the Supreme Court verdict.Starting from Ayodhya, the ‘Ramayan Circuit’ seeks to trace the footprints of Lord Ram across 15 sites in nine states for which a Rs 133.30-crore project has been outlined as part of the Swadesh Darshan Programme conceived by the Centre.

The circuit starts from Ayodhya and connects Shringverpur in Prayagaraj, Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand, besides Sitamarhi, Buxar and Darbhanga in Bihar, Nandigram in West Bengal, Mahendra Giri in Odisha, Jagdalpur in Chhatisgarh, Bhadrachalam in Telengana, Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, Hampi in Karnataka, Nasik and Nagpur in Maharashtra.

Rs 2,000 Cr Navya Ayodhya

With a ‘Navya Ayodhya’ plan in consultancy with the London-based PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to resurrect the Treta Yug and rebuild the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, the Yogi government wants to turn Ayodhya into one of the world’s top religious destinations.

This plan would recreate a Vedic eco-city called Ikshavakupuri on the banks of Saryu with world-class infrastructure, hospitality services and renovated muths and temples.CM Yogi had approved a Rs 400-crore package and ‘Divya and Bhavya Deepawali’ lighting events, which have been turned into an annual feature.

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The PWC recommended complete overhaul of infrastructure, logistic, services and city ambience as it expects 2 crore footfalls annually. Consequently, the state has decided to build at least a dozen five-star hotels, seven three-star hotels and about 4,000 small to big “dharamshalas”(inns) to accommodate pilgrims.

“There is a Rs 5-crore plan to convert the ‘Rajsadan’ (royal residence) of Raja Ayodhya into an upmarket heritage hotel and Faizabad’s Kohinoor Palace into a hotel, besides renovation of Guptar Ghat, Ram Ki Paidi, Queen Ho Park, Ram Katha Park and Ramayan Museum. The installation of 251-metre statue of Lord Ram on Saryu banks linked to a 13-km corridor will be the centrepiece,” said RP Yadav, regional tourism officer.

Plans for world-class connectivity through rail, road and air with modern highways, bus station and airport at Ayodhya to be inaugurated on Ram Navami next year has been speeded up, while Ikshvakupuri, the Rs 2,000 crore spiritual eco-city project on 1,800-acre land on Saryu’s banks has been cleared.

Fabled Ikshvakupuri

Drawing from Valmiki Ramayan, four forested tracts to be christened as Dandkaranya, Vindhyaranya, Dhamraranya and Vedaranya and two sarovars, Pampa and Narayana, will be developed in Ikshvakupuri.

The township, that will start from Ayodhya-Gonda highway and culminate at Guptar Ghat, will also have a riverfront, measuring 3 km from the Ramjanmabhoomi site. Chitrakoot on the banks of Mandakini, where Ram met Bharat upon his return from exile and where King Dashrath was cremated is to be revamped as also Shringverpur, 40 km from Prayagraj.

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Senior BJP leader Amit Puri said, “After Ayodhya verdict there is no denying that PM Narendra Modi is up on a pedestal as a problem solver. But we don’t intend to draw any political mileage out of it as it’s an issue related to faith though it was part of our manifesto right from the beginning.”

“The concept of Ramayan Circuit, creation of Navya Ayodhya is part of our promise to give Ayodhya its due. Our government will build a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya,” added spokesman Dr Chandramohan. A senior SP leader was dismissive.

“The BJP has its political journey woven around the Ayodhya issue. Now after the SC verdict the issue of Ram temple might have ended but BJP is not willing to let go. Without it, it is agenda-less,” he said.

(INPUTS: Namita Bajpai in Lucknow, Anuraag Singh in Bhopal, Ejaz Kaiser in Raipur, Rajesh Kumar Thakur in Patna)

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