Will Lord Ram prove to be BJP's trump card again?

Written by: Rajesh Krishna
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{image-lord ram_01082008.jpg news.oneindia.in}Before 1980s, 90pc of the Indian Hindus were unaware of the fact that Lord Rama was born in Uttar Pradesh! Most people had never heard of Ram Janmabhoomi till the VHP made it an issue. After Sangh Pariwar's agitations in the 1980's most of them came to realise that Lord Rama was exactly born in place where Babari Masjid was built. Rest, as we know, is history... It was the Ram Janmabhumi campaign that catapulted the BJP from a two-member party in the Lok Sabha to the seat of power in Delhi.

As another Lok Sabha election is fast approaching, BJP is yet again reviving the memories of Ayodhya campagin. The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday, July 31 alleged that the UPA government's adamant attitude over destroying the Ram Setu for the Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP) amounted to 'cultural terrorism'.

Party also demanded that Ram Setu must be protected at any cost and be declared as a 'national monument'. Anyhow, it's doubtful that many Hindus even know about the Setu -- just as many of them probably hadn't even heard of Ram Janmabhoomi.

Sethusamudram project

The Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge connects India's Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka's Talaimannar. Sethusamudram, is a project to create alternative shorter route for ships to cross the Gulf of Mannar. The channel, originally an idea of a British commander named A D Taylor was put forth in 1860. After independence, the government constituted a Sethusamudram project committee in 1955, to examine its feasibility.

Ships beginning its journey from the west of India and destined for Chennai, Ennore, Vishakapatnam, Paradeep, Haldia and Kolkata have to travel around the Sri Lankan coast resulting in increase of travel distance and time. Apart from this, ships belonging to Indian Navy and Coast Guard also traverse around Sri Lanka.

In order to reduce the steaming distances between the east and west coast of India and to improve the navigation within territorial waters of India, a navigation channel connecting the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay through Adam's Bridge has been envisaged so that the ships moving between the east and west coasts of India need not go around Sri Lanka. the project, expected to act as a catalyst for industrial development, trade and commerce, to promote coastal shipping and generate employment. The project, which is expected to cost Rs 2500 crore, was inaugurated by Manmohan Singh 3 years ago.

Protest by Hindu groups

Some Hindu groups in the country allege that dredging plan calls for breaking the Rama Setu (Adams Bridge) connecting Dhanushkodi (India) and Thalaimannar (Sri Lanka). These groups argue that this was the bridge that Rama and his vanara sena built to cross the ocean to rescue Sita. These groups warn that any destruction to the Setu would hurt the sentiments of crores of Hindus across the world.

Scientific facts

Historians say that Setu cannot be considered man-made because no material evidence to authenticate this claim has been found. The Geological Survey of India, after an in-depth study, concluded that far from being a manmade structure, the Ramar Setu is a natural formation that is over 175,000 years old. Ironically, the 2002 study was commissioned by Uma Bharati, then Union minister for coal and mines in the BJP-led NDA regime.

Politics of Ram Setu

BJP and Sangh Parivar organisations have already made it as a prominent issue. Party has drawn a parallel between the row over the Sethusamudram shipping canal project and its Ram temple movement, saying it found similarity in the ruling Congress' response to the party's objections in both the cases.

Ironically, the BJP seems to be saying that since it is man-made it must be respected as archaeologically significant and hence not to be altered in any way. This is rich coming from a party who had few qualms over bringing down the ASI protected Babri Masjid.

Politics being played over the Ramsetu showed the dirty face of Indian politics once again as well as the fallouts of democracy. For Indian politicians, religion is just a way of positioning themselves in politics. Ram Setu is just another example where the self interests of politicians are becoming hurdles to their own country's development.

Every time the India bends to fundamentalist pressure, it compromises itself, and allows public reason to be trumped by religious belief. This isn't the mark of a society that aspires for modernity, tolerance and pluralism.

Former Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev once described politicians as people who will promise to build a bridge even where no river exists! Indian politicians have gone one step further. They are claiming the existence of a bridge where none exists.

Hey ram........

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