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The Congress has chalked out temple-visits for the party President for his future election tours in the state where assembly poll is due in November-December. In the poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is offering itself to the voters as a more Hinduised alternative of the ruling BJP. Lord Rama, cowsheds, religious tourism and temple-hopping are pet BJP fetishes. Now the Congress is promising the voter that it will do better work than the BJP on these Hindutva fronts, if voted to power.


Omission of welfare of minorities in the Congress leaders’ utterances in the run up to the assembly election has been quite conspicuous so far. The main opposition party’s promised religious tourism hub, revolves around major Hindu pilgrim centres in the state but does not include Asia’s largest mosque—the Jama Masjid -- situated in Bhopal.  


Predictably, the BJP is happy to find the main opposition having started speak its language. It knows too well that aping the original Hindutva outfit is likely to make the Congress look like an ape. Moreover, electoral contest on Hindutva issues will shift focus away from real issues such as farmer distress, corruption, Vyapam, unemployment and mis-governance. Nothing will please the ruling party more than this prospect. For record though the BJP maintains that the Congress is forced to resort to Hindutva as it is bereft of substantial issues.  


Several opinion polls, particularly those of the CSDS-Lokniti in May and the ABP-C-voter in July, have predicted the Congress ahead of the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh. They were conducted before the Congress decided to enter in the treacherous terrain of Hindutva politics. Three-term anti-incumbency against the BJP rule is running deep in the state, claim the surveys.


Are taking up proposed journey on Lord Rama’s mythical route, promising cowsheds in every Panchayat and temple-hopping of its leaders for votes worth the risk of jeopardising secular credentials for the Congress?


Congress leaders’ defence is that they are doing so to expose the BJP’s unfulfilled promises of constructing the Ram –Van-Path-Gaman project and protecting cows.


State Congress’s Chief Spokesperson Shobha Oza envisages substantial number of jobs coming to youths in developing religious tourism. Her deputy Bhupendra Gupta is confident that religion and allied work can engage a lot of people.


The Congress has gambled on the Ram-van-path –Gaman project, that the BJP had abandoned a decade ago, considering it electorally useless. The project envisaged tracing the mythological path that Lord Rama is believed to have taken during his 14-year exile.

Congress leader Harishankar Shukla, the brain behind the proposed yatra, says “We want Lord Rama’s blessings ahead of the elections.”

Now that the Congress has revived the project, the BJP has joined the issue with its main rival. The Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Government is planning to have a booklet printed on its works so far on the project which he had announced on October 1, 2007.


Legend has it, that Lord Rama spent 11 out of 14 years of exile in the forests of Madhya Pradesh in Satna, Panna, Shahdol, Jabalpur and Vidisha districts. Starting from Ayodhya to Shringverpur, near Allahabad, Chitrakoot, Sarbhang Ashram, Sutishkna Ashram, Agastya Ashram, Panchvati, Kishkindha, Rameshwaram are among the important places (now in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively) where Lord Rama is believed to have spent his life during the 14 years of 'Vanvas'.


The project was to be led and implemented by former Union Minister of State Anil Madhav Dave who died of cardiac arrest on May 18, 2017.  


The idea was floated by the then Satna district, BJP President Pushpendra Pratap Singh in 2004. He had discussed it with scholars of Sri Ram Cultural Research Institute Trust, New Delhi. Singh wrote to then Chief Minister Uma Bharati and later to then State Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who is now Union Minister in this regard.


For three years, the idea gathered dust in government files.  On November 21, 2007, it was dusted off the files. The Chief Minister announced and sanctioned Rs 7.90 crore for the project.  


Even as the project remained a non-starter, the BJP won the 2008 assembly poll with comfortable majority. Its victory was more impressive in the assembly segments which fell on the mythological route of the Lord Rama’s exile.

Rakesh Dixit

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