Ram Mandir -BJP braces for new poll pitch

By building remarkable hype around the upcoming consecration of Ram temple, the BJP is strategically paving the way for a new narrative in the approaching LS polls. A report by Mudit Mathur

The BJP-led central and state governments along with its parent organisation, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and its associate organisations are working round the clock to take credit for establishing Ram temple in Ayodhya, which is set to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 22, 2024 at 12.20 pm amid much fanfare. With this, the groundwork has been laid by the BJP to set a new political narrative before the majority community for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, when the policies and programmes of the BJP government under PM Modi will be put to test.

The quaint and traditional city of Ayodhya, which has undergone a facelift, and is now equipped with international-level  modern tourism and logistics facilities while reflecting ancient cultural symbolism all the same, is going to be the new “mantra” for Modi to regain power in 2024. Using this platform, the BJP is expected to launch its emotive poll campaign based on the theme of “Ram Rajya” (good governance) with an objective to push the opposition’s counter narrative of caste census to the background.

The invitation card mentions that consecration will take place in the august presence of “Prime Minister, Bharat”, Narendra Modi, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and president of the temple trust Mahant Nritya Gopal Das. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while calling it “Rashtriya Utsav” (National Festival), announced that all the educational institutions will observe holiday on the day the temple will be inaugurated. He also announced closure of all the liquor and mutton shops on the day throughout the state.

The poll strategists of prime minister Narendra Modi have planned to project the mega event of consecration ceremony of Ram temple as a historic victory day after “500 years of struggle of Hindus” for regaining its reins as the biggest achievement of Modi government. The clamour of this emotive issue is anticipated to blow away the growing clouds of anti-incumbency and simmering questions of misgovernance that present government has to face over the record high rate unemployment, unrestrained price rise of essential commodities and privatisation of national assets and infrastructure allegedly to benefit a select few corporate houses.

BJP workers have been instructed to set up large screens for the streaming of live telecast of the Shri Ram temple consecration at every booth level. This campaign aims to provide a means to  the common people to witness the live telecast of all the events relating to consecration of Shri Ram Lala. On this occasion, the BJP workers may choose to distribute blankets, organize community feasts (‘bhandara’), or contribute through donations in terms of food or fruits to help those in need as a part of a bid to make a direct connect at the grassroots.

The whole idea seems to be to propagate the view that BJP is the sole representative party of the majority Hindu community. As part of this exercise, RSS workers have already started distributing ‘Akshat’ door-to-door, inviting them to attend celebrations at their nearest temple on January 22, to mark the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya where big screens will be installed to stream the temple opening ceremony by BJP workers and local leaders.

After Makar Sankranti, a week-long Vedic rituals for the consecration ceremony of Ram Lalla (childhood statue of Lord Ram) in Ayodhya will begin on January 16 until the main ceremony. Ayodhya will mark the entire week as Amrit Mahotsav. A 1008 Kundiya Mahayagya will also be held in which thousands of devotees will participate and there will be round the clock “Bhandras” to offer food and prasad. An eminent priest from Varanasi, Lakshmi Kant Dixit has been entrusted to perform the main rituals of the consecration ceremony of Ram Lalla on January 22.

The media is expected to give round-the-clock coverage of various events and set the tempo by highlighting the achievements of the Modi government. These events are precisely planned in such a way to change the narrative for the 2024 general elections by sidetracking the core issues of the people of India. The results of recently held state elections have encouraged the BJP to toe the idea of religious–communal polarisation to pre-empt the possibility of the caste-centric politics of opposition making any dent in its poll prospects.

The Ram temple complex, built in the traditional Nagara style, is 380 feet in length (east-west direction), 250 feet in width and 161 feet in height. Each floor of the temple is 20 feet high and the temple has a total of 392 pillars and 44 gates. Several tent cities are being erected in Ayodhya to accommodate thousands of devotees, who are expected to arrive in the temple town for the grand consecration event.

The event has garnered global attention, with several VVIP guests from India and abroad extended invitations to participate in the auspicious occasion in Ayodhya. The Trust has invited over 4,000 Sants and 5000 eminent citizens on the occasion of consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on January 22, said Ram Temple Trust general secretary Champat Rai. The Trust also invited Shankaracharyas of six ‘Darshans’ (ancient schools of Religious Philosophy). The trust has made arrangements to accommodate 10000-15000 guests even as the district authorities are gearing up to meet the exigencies in view of the anticipated surge of visitors during and after the grand ceremony. The authorities are ready with enhanced security measures and are making logistical arrangements to ensure a smooth and spiritually enriching experience for all attendees.

Several political leaders, celebrities and business personalities have been invited for the consecration ceremony. Prominent cricketers, film stars, industrialists and seers from different parts of the country figure on the guest list. While many political leaders have agreed to attend the event, others have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Central government of using the occasion to set a narrative for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Veteran leaders of the BJP, Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who have been extended invitations, have expressed their desire to attend the mega event. Advani and Joshi are not only the founders of BJP, but are pioneers of Ram temple movement, who had actively led the masses during the demolition of Babri mosque on December 6, 1992 and had brought the issue to the mainstream political discourse of the nation. Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda may join the event in view of his recent tie up with BJP in Karnataka.

Cong declines invite

However, declining the invitation from the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, the Congress Party has decided to skip the upcoming event in Ayodhya. “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gains,” a statement released by the Jairam Ramesh, General Secretary, Communications, remarked.

“Lord Ram is worshiped by millions in our country. Religion is a personal matter. But the RSS/ BJP have long made a political project of a temple in Ayodhya. The inauguration of an incomplete temple by the leaders of BJP and RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gains. While abiding by 2019 Supreme Court judgement and honouring the sentiments of millions who revere Lord Ram, Sri Mallikarjun Kharge, Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Adhir Ranjan Choudhary have respectfully declined the invitation to what is clearly an RSS/ BJP event,” he added.

“Congress never opposed Ram temple,” said Avinash Pande, who replaced Priyanka Gandhi as national general secretary incharge of UP last month.  A group of party leaders from UP will visit Ram temple in Ayodhya not as a political move but as a matter of faith on 15 January, he said.

The Shankaracharya of Gobardhan Peeth,  Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati is also unhappy about the lavish event being planned for the consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and criticised the way it’s being turned into a political show of power. “It’s because of the upcoming general elections, the event is being made so splendid. It’s not appropriate to sit outside a temple, clapping, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be unveiling the idol. I will not attend the event,” the seer said at Shankaracharya Ashram in Rawabhata in Raipur.

Addressing his devotees, Shankaracharya said, “It’s the responsibility of priests and sadhus to consecrate Lord Rama’s idol. Why are so many politicians expected to be present? I don’t feel it’s right to sit outside and clap while the idol is being consecrated inside the ‘garbhagriha.” Visibly annoyed, Shankaracharya said that he has received a ‘plus one’ invitation to the temple inauguration, but has decided not to go.

Shankaracharya questioned the “hurry” to inaugurate the temple when it is going to take more than a year and half to complete. “It’s because they are eyeing the general elections. Those who are materialistic only see the present. Ram Lalla becoming famous is a good thing, but I did not give my consent as the work going on at the temple is not traditional in nature,” he remarked while talking to the media.

On the other hand, in a strategic counter political move, the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has planned an equally grand inauguration of the “Jagannath Heritage Corridor Project” in Puri. The idea seems to check BJP which expects to gain a tremendous political dividend from the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. 

With an aim to counter Narendra Modi’s Ayodhya narrative, Naveen has meticulously planned a series of month-long activities to create awareness and reach out to all households in Odisha. The project includes improvements in Jagannath Temple and other shrines in Odisha. Naveen would be seeking re-election for a sixth term as chief minister in the state assembly election to be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha polls. The government will flag off ‘raths’ to create awareness about the Rs 943 crore project in villages.

Karnataka Deputy CM D.K. Shivakumar defended his government’s decision to celebrate the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, stating “ultimately we all are Hindus.” He emphasised that religious symbols are public property and criticized the BJP for selectively inviting leaders to the event. “They (BJP) are picking and choosing leaders. There are so many leaders and chief ministers in the country. It is not a private property. It is public property. Every religion and symbol does not belong to any individual,” the Karnataka Deputy CM said while replying to a question as to why the Congress high command had not decided to take part in the ceremony at Ayodhya.

Shivakumar further said, “We respect the sentiments of all the people,” adding that his government has departments for the minorities, SC/STs, OBCs and Hindu religion. The Supreme Court had in a historic verdict in 2019 backed the construction of the Ram temple by a government trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the town considered holy by Hindus.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said he has not received an invitation for the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple. “I have not been invited to the inauguration of Ram Temple…BJP is doing politics in the name of Ram temple…The ruling party does not have any concrete programme to garner people’s support, so it seems they are trying to create a different opinion.”

BJP’s gimmick: Mamata

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has slammed the BJP for its bid to take the political mileage out of the purely religious issue. Addressing a public programme at Joynagar in South 24 Parganas district, Mamata Banerjee said that the saffron party was indulging in a “gimmick show” through the inauguration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Banerjee said she did not believe in dividing masses on religious lines. She is unlikely to attend the ceremony. “I believe in festivities that take along people from all communities and speak about unity. The BJP is doing it (Ram Mandir inauguration) under court instruction but doing it before Lok Sabha polls as a gimmick show,” she alleged.

CPI (M) leaders too will not be attending the event. Party leader Brinda Karat said, “No, we will not go. We respect religious beliefs… but they are connecting a religious programme with politics. Using religion as a political weapon or to advance a political agenda is not right.”

Meanwhile, Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, Ayodhya has also extended invitations to cricket legends Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, and Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. 

Billionaire industrialists Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran and Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani are among India’s top business leaders who will also be seen at the ceremony.

Among other business leaders who have been invited are Vedanta Group chairman Anil Agarwal, Piramal Enterprises chairman Ajay Piramal, Raymond Group chairman Gautam Singhania, TVS chairman Venu Srinivasan, Bharat Forge promoting family’s Baba Kalyani and Amit Kalyani, Satish Mehta, CEO and MD, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Sanjiv Mehta, former CEO of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and L&T CMD SN Subrahmanyam.

A galaxy of film personalities have also been invited by the trust. The invitees include Rajinikanth, Madhuri Dixit, Anupam Kher, Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Chiranjeevi, Mohanlal, Dhanush, Rishab Shetty, Madhur Bhandarkar, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Sunny Deol, Prabhas, Yash, Tiger Shroff and Ayushmann Khurrana besides Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia Topiwala (who essayed the roles of  Ram and Sita in the popular 1987 TV serial Ramayan). Newly-weds actor Randeep Hooda and Lin Laishram have also received an official invitation for Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha ceremony.

Heads of major temples like Kashi Vishwanath, Vaishno Devi and representatives of religious and constitutional institutions, spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Mata Amritanandamayi of Kerala and Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev have also been invited. Painter Vasudev Kamat, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) director Nilesh Desai and many other eminent personalities also feature in invitees’ list.

 “The Trust has invited one representative each from 50 foreign countries. Invitations have been extended to the families of kar sevaks who lost their lives in the Ram Mandir movement. Invitations have also been sent to scientists, judges, writers and poets,” added secretary of the Trust, Champat Rai. Invitations have also been sent to revered seers from different traditions, along with all prominent individuals contributing to the country’s prestige in every domain. The Trust also invited 80 distinguished individuals from various fields in Allahabad, including spirituality, literature, culture, as well as seers and saints associated with 13 prominent Akharas.

The responsibility of security of Ram temple will be handed over to UP STF and central security forces and Ayodhya has been divided into red and yellow zones. About 25,000 security personnel including military personnel will be deployed for the security of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi. Crash rated bollards have been installed in the Red Zone to prevent suicide attacks. NSG commandos along with paramilitary forces of 6 company CRPF, 3 company PAC, 9 company SSF, 300 policemen, 47 jawan fire service, 38 jawan LIU, 40 jawan radio police, two team bomb squad, one commando unit PAC, one-unit STF along with central investigative agencies and NSG commandos will be there for the security of dignitaries.