In a town believed by many to be the birthplace of the god, his name echoes in every corner and not just in the chanting of devotees. Governments through the years have competed with each other to ensure that most ventures, be it a park, a cultural institute or a state programme, have the Ram tag.
There are at least half a dozen major projects launched by various governments, starting from Congress regimes in the state in the late 1980s, even before the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, and numerous small ones that are named after the Hindu god worshipped by millions.
“There are three Rams — one of the pandits, another of the Ramjanmabhoomi and third the cultural one. We deal with the third one,” said Yogendra Pratap Singh, director of the Tulsi Smarak Bhavan, the head office of the Ayodhya Research Institute founded in 1986 as an organisation of the state’s culture department.
Set up at a place where Tulsidas is believed to have started writing the Ramcharitmanas in 1631, its objective was to conduct research on Ram Katha, the historical significance of Ayodhya in relation to all religions, its art and culture, Vaishnavism Bhakti movement and documents of Avadh. The Tulsi Smarak Bhavan has a collection of art from across the country on Ram Katha and a library.
For 13 years, Singh said, there was a daily Ramlila in the auditorium. But with the pandits wanting to get involved the state government took the decision to discontinue it to avoid giving it political colour.
As Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 1989, Congress’s ND Tiwari, who last week joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), launched a Ram Katha park in Ayodhya in a bid to counter the VHP at a cost of Rs 15 crore. He also announced a Ram ki Pauri, where water could be pumped from the Saryu river for people to bathe. However, lack of maintenance has left it dirty and dysfunctional.
It was in 1989 that the BJP’s Palampur executive issued a resolution on Ramjanmabhoomi — literally the place of Ram’s birth — saying it should be handed over to Hindus. It also said the dispute should be resolved through mutual dialogue between the two communities, and if not, through an enabling legislation.
After the Babri Masjid demolition, as BJP rode to power on the temple plank, Ram became central to the town’s politics. However, with time, the issue started losing its political sway and parties turned to a subtler strategy to pander to right wing Hindu sentiment.
In 2008, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-led Mayawati government sanctioned Rs 50 crore for an International Ramlila Cultural Centre over 28 acres. A fund of Rs 22.90 crore was released for the land but the project is yet to make headway. State government sources said there were plans for an open theatre at the site.
In 2012, the Antarashtriya Ram Katha Sangralaya project was launched by the Congress-led UPA government at the centre at a cost of around Rs 13 crore. Antiquities related to the Ramjanmabhoomi have been recently transferred to the museum from the Raja’s palace. The museum also has models of Ram’s durbar with light and sound.
However, with two floors of the museum lying vacant, the Samajwadi Party (SP) government decided in 2015 to dedicate it to items belonging to the mysterious godman, Gumnami Baba. Many believe that he was actually INA leader Subhas Chandra Bose and had spent the last days of his life in disguise in Faizabad close by.
The union culture ministry, under Mahesh Sharma, has sought a plan from the authorities to spruce up the museum, sources said.
The Modi government has sanctioned Rs 151 crore for a Ramayana Circuit that follows Lord Ram’s path from Ayodhya to Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. The move came ahead of state assembly elections.
“The central government can only launch a project, after which the land has to be provided by the state government,” said Singh.
The Akhilesh government joined the race around six months ago by announcing a Bhajan Sthal, for which land is being identified, according to sources. But the projects do not seem to have much lure for locals.
MAYAWATI URGES CEC TO PENALISE BJP
Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati urged the Chief Election Commissioner to take strict action against the Bharatiya Janata Party for raking up the Ram temple issue and to take cognisance of the incident as the matter was pending in the Supreme Court and is “in violation of the Model Code of Conduct as well as Supreme Court orders”