Delhi: The Opposition is up in arms regarding the plans of Narendra Modi-led government at Centre to set up a Ramayana Museum in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh where Assembly elections are due next year.
A 25 acre plot has been identified for it some 15 km away from the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex.
Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma will visit Ayodhya on October 18 to inspect the proposed site.
"We want it to be a museum where people from around the world come, and get an insight into Lord Ram's life and the Ramayana," Sharma said.
"This is our faith. Faith and politics are two different things," he added, as per ANI.
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'.
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.
The minister emphasised, "The visit is part of developmental agenda. This is part of government's effort to improve tourism in Ayodhya and all over the country. 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."
He said the government has identified three circuits - Ramayana Circuit, Krishna Circuit and Buddhist Circuit - to boost religious tourism.
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."
The minister 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.
Meanwhile, talking to Times Now, news channel Congress' CM candidate for UP polls Sheila Dikshit said, "Why is it happening at a time like this when elections are a few months away. We are not against it, everybody worships Lord Ram but the timing is crucial. It gives it a communal touch. The venue is Ayodhya. It will impact UP."
Another Congress leader and former union minister RPN Singh accused the Modi government and BJP of invoking Ram months ahead of the Assembly polls for deriving political mileage out of it.
He said, "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. 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?"
On the other hand, BSP chief Mayawati said in a release today, "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."
The former UP CM further said, "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."
DMK chief M Karunanidhi also deprecated attempts to rake up the Ram temple issue ahead of UP Assembly 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 PM Modi chanting 'Jai Sri Ram' at the Ram Leela event 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.
BJP leaders pitch for construction of Ram temple
The proposed museum has 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'.
"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," as per PTI.
Bharti pointed out, "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."
(With Agency inputs)