In the communally sensitive largest state of India, the issue of religion is back at the centre stage in preparation of the next Parliamentary elections scheduled in 2019. It is evident that the saffron party is planning to revive religious passions to consolidate Hindu votes along with giving it a developmental face. A major step in that direction is the ‘mega plan’ of the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to install a 110-meter-high grand statue of Lord Ram in a warrior pose on the banks of river Saryu in Ayodhya for promoting religious tourism.
The integrated tourism development programme, ‘Navya Ayodhya’, will be constructed with the financial assistance of the Central government that will share 133.70 crore out of a total cost of 195.89 crore, as per initial estimation. According to a senior official of the state tourism department, the statue will come up in Ayodhya since it is considered as the state’s political centre stage after the Babri mosque was destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992 to build a temple in its place.
After studying the feasibility of the project at Ayodhya, Principal Secretary of Tourism and Information Avnish Kumar Awasthi told media persons, “A 100-metre statue is just at the conceptual level and will be on the pattern of Ram’s statue at Bali and the statue of Shiva in Mauritius. Our idea is to boost tourism in the state.” The project is awaiting clearance from the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Awasthi made an elaborate presentation on the integrated tourism development programme before Governor Ram Naik on October 9, apprising the Governor about the grand Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya this year.
A big festival for lighting of lamps will be organised on the river bank in Ayodhya at Ram Ki Paudi on October 18, a day before the Hindu festival of Diwali. Over 1,71,000 earthen lamps will be illumined to celebrate the festival that marks the return of Ram to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years. Governor Naik, Chief Minister Adityanath, State Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam, Union Culture Minister Dr Mahesh Sharma and Adityanath’s cabinet colleagues will attend the event to be held on Chotti Diwali where a cultural program will also be held.
Apart from the statue, the project would comprise of a Ram Katha gallery on the banks of the Saryu, a multi-purpose auditorium in the Digambar Akhara premises and various other public utility services under the ‘Navya Ayodhya’ project. This comes as the UP tourism department gave the Taj Mahal a miss in its tourism booklet, ignoring the historic monument which is a huge revenue generator for the state apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World.’
Significantly, the BJP state government has also made saffron as the representative colour of all government utilities and services, such as newly launched state transport buses, school bags, identity cards, booklets, stage decorations at public functions, etc. The state Chief Minister, who is the head priest at the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, will receive at the Ram Katha Park a grand Diwali procession symbolising Ram’s return. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das of Mani Ram Das Chavni is likely to lead the procession, which will be taken out for the first time during Diwali in the streets of Ayodhya. Hundreds of saffron-clad saints will participate and the whole of Ayodhya will be decked up for the occasion.
Reacting sharply over the huge expenditure of public money, senior Congress spokesperson Amar Nath Agrawal said when the state’s health services are facing dearth of money to meet continuing exigencies resulting in unfortunate neonatal deaths in BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur, the insensitive government is just busy in reaping political dividends. “BJP has nothing to do with religion. They are just keen to use religion to secure votes. Tourism is not going to be promoted in this way as it is not going to fetch revenue to the state’s coffers,” he added.
Ever since Yogi Adityanath has become the chief minister in March this year, he has paid special attention to Ayodhya. The government has initiated various developmental projects in the city. His visit to the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site has raised political tempers.
Uttar Pradesh is a significant state that the BJP had won with a lot of hard work in the recently held Assembly polls. In the event of negative incidents such as multiple infant deaths in a government hospital in the Chief Minister’s constituency, it faces an anti-incumbency factor in the upcoming General elections. Since the BJP has already started preparing for the Lok Sabha polls that are more than a year away, only time will tell if the Hindu right-wing party further unfurls its saffron flag to win the election by combining religion with politics.