Lucknow: Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma on Tuesday inspected 25 acres of land earmarked for a proposed Ramayan museum in Ayodhya and said the project had nothing to do with 'Ram Mandir' politics ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
However, he did add that those who get to do 'Ram ka kaam' (serve Ram) were fortunate.
"If anyone gets a chance to work for Bhagwan Ram he is most fortunate... It will be good fortune if Bhagwan Ram gives us a chance to do 'Ram ka kaam' and this responsibility has been given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the people of the country," Sharma said.
"Mann ban chuka hai, mahaul ban chuka hai (we have made up our mind, a conducive atmosphere has also been created). The beginning has been made and we have got the directives from Ram Lala," Tourism Minister said, adding, "We are the Lord's children and so have to do his work of spreading education".
Insisting that Ram temple was not on the Modi government's agenda, Sharma said Ayodhya's development would get a big push from the Rs 151 crore allotted for developing the proposed museum, which will present the life of the deity as portrayed in sage Valmiki's epic.
He said there was no politics behind the proposed museum being constructed as part of the Ramayana Circuit.
Similarly Krishna Circuit and Buddhist Circuit were also being developed, Sharma said.
He said Ram temple was an "issue of faith" for millions of people, but it was not on BJP's electoral agenda, as per PTI.
The minister said the government would try to have the museum inaugurated before Uttar Pradesh votes to elect a new government.
अयोध्या में पर्यटन के विकास हेतु हमारा प्रयास निरंतर जारी रहेगा। अयोध्या शीघ्र ही विश्व के पर्यटन मानचित्र पर होगा । pic.twitter.com/UhSRSRRyuK
— Dr. Mahesh Sharma (@dr_maheshsharma) October 18, 2016
Opposition slams BJP
The Modi government, however, came under attack from the Congress over the issue with party general secretary Digvijay Singh alleging the museum and Ram temple were being raked up with an eye on the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh due early next year.
"Come election, come Ram Mandir issue. This is what BJP has as a strategy. Nobody is against the temple. I am a practising Hindu, but even Lord Ram would not have wanted a temple in the atmosphere of dispute. BJP has been trying to fool all the people all the time," Singh said.
Singh said Modi's chant of "Jai Shri Ram, Jai Jai Shri Ram" at a Dussehra event in Lucknow was "obviously" intended to polarise Hindu votes in favour of the BJP.
On the other hand, two major Left parties--CPI-M and CPI--criticised the Modi government's decision of setting up the Ramayana museum and accused BJP of seeking to "again exploit" the public sentiment for electoral gains and termed it an attempt to distract people's attention from the party's "failure" in delivering on poll promises.
"The BJP has continuously exploited people's sentiment about Lord Ram for electoral purposes. That's exactly what they are doing once again.
"So, that's the desperation they fall back upon. They have not been able to deliver on a single promise made during the last Lok Sabha elections," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said.
Terming the move as an attempt to distract public attention from BJP's "failure" to keep poll promises, Yechury said people will not fall for the "games" the saffron party is playing this time around.
Echoing his views, senior CPI leader Atul Anjan said the museum has been proposed keeping an eye on the elections in Uttar Pradesh "where BJP is searching for political ground".
"Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had gone to inspect the site in Ayodhya. In fact, he had gone to find political land for BJP and not for the proposed museum. They don't want to construct Ramayana museum, but vote museum," Anjan said.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh had decided to construct a Ramleela Theme Park, also in Ayodhya.
BSP chief Mayawati had criticised both the central and the state governments and said the decisions were taken only for electoral gains.
"The decision to build a Ramayan Museum and Ramleela Theme Park in Ayodhya by the BJP and the SP respectively just before the assembly elections shows their intentions," the BSP chief had said in a statement.
Ramayana museum project a 'lollipop', says Katiyar
The proposed museum, to be built on a 25-acre plot given by the UP government nearly 15 km from the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex, has reignited demands by 'hardliners' like Vinay Katiyar for building a Ram temple at the site where the Babri mosque stood before being pulled down in 1992.
Katiyar on Tuesday dubbed the proposed government project to build a museum as a "lollipop" and said instead, people want a "Ram temple".
"This museum is nothing but a lollipop and people don't need this. People want a Ram temple at Ram's Janmbhoomi and nothing short of that will suffice," Katiyar told IANS.
"Where is the land for this museum? Moreover, the model election code of conduct will come into force in two months, so how will they build it," asked Katiyar, a member of the Rajya Sabha.
"On one hand there is proposal of this museum, and on the other, (UP CM) Akhilesh Yadav has declared constructing Ramleela Theme Park. But, where is the land? People want Ram Mandir... nothing else. If it needs to be done through a bill in parliament, so be it. We have the majority. Building the Ram temple is in our party manifesto. We should not forget it," Katiyar said.
(With Agency inputs)