Saffron brigades competing for Ram space


New Delhi : The government may have withdrawn its controversial affidavit from the Supreme Court, questioning the historical basis of the existence of Lord Ram, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the larger saffron brigade is reluctant to bury an emotive issue ahead of what it considers would be mid-term elections.

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Leaders of factions of different saffron hues, ranging from the BJP to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to Uma Bharti, are competing to outdo one another to score on this front and grab maximum mileage.

The BJP has refused to forgive the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and demanded the resignation of union Culture Minister Ambika Soni over the affidavit, which was framed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that falls under her ministry. The demand was made Friday by BJP spokesman Prakash Jawadekar.

Jawadekar also reiterated the demand for an apology from the Congress party and banning of all work on the Sethusamudram shipping canal in the Palk Strait, the construction of which may damage the Adam’s Bridge, which Hindus believe to be the Ram Sethu described in the epic Ramayana.

On Thursday, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani had demanded withdrawal of the affidavit and blamed Congress president Sonia Gandhi for it. He has demanded a personal apology from her over it.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti, now heading her own Bharatiya Janshakti Party, has announced from Bhopal her intent to sit on a fast unto death, lodge a police complaint in Delhi and carry on a prolonged nationwide agitation for “restoring the honour and prestige” of Lord Ram.

“If the FIR (First Information Report) is not lodged and action not taken against those involved in the conspiracy, we would launch an intensified agitation,” she said Thursday, setting Sep 22 as the date on which she would launch her agitation in Delhi.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) general secretary Praveen Togadiya also reacted to the controversy – but a little differently.

He has already declared victory. Togadia said: “Withdrawing of the Ram Sethu affidavit is a triumph of Hindus. The Supreme Court has issued a three-month-long stay order against demolishing the Ram Sethu. Rameswaram Ram Sethu Raksha Manch heartily greets with this order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

In a statement in Ahmedabad, Togadiya declared: “The central government has accepted its error of judgment by withdrawing the offending affidavit. This is the effect of the September 12 countrywide chakka jam (road blockade) pressure.”

The VHP leader has called for “an emergency meeting of the leading karyakartas (office bearers of VHP) on September 18-19, 2007, in Delhi for chalking out the action plan”.

Togadiya’s statement taking credit for the central government withdrawing the affidavit assumes political significance in the context of his clash with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the latter’s attempt to fuel passions against “Italian Sonia Gandhi”.

Similarly, Uma Bharti also is trying to wrench this opportunity away from the BJP as she is trying to carve a political niche in the BJP-saffron space of Madhya Pradesh and a permanent recognition as the biggest saffron mascot, political observers say.

The UPA government may have tried to bury the issue by acknowledging its special regards for Lord Ram, but the saffron brigade is not willing to let go such a godsend to stir up agitation and snuggle up closer to its vote bank, observers say.