Lucknow, April 3: Lord Ram is once again at the centre of a flashpoint between the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh.
Daggers drawn over the past two decades on the Ram Janmabhoomi imbroglio, the two parties are now set to fight it out on a new issue: the stopping of the Ram Katha recital, along with the the longest-running Ram Leela show in Ayodhya, due to paucity of funds.
The Ram Katha and Ram Leela have been playing without a single day's recess, but for a few days in 2013, for the last 11 years. It has now been halted as the state culture department has allegedly not issued the necessary funds.
Organized by the Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan, an autonomous arm of the Uttar Pradesh culture department, the Ram Katha and Ram Leela were stopped briefly in 2013 after the funds meant for the event were diverted to the Saifai Mahotsava held at Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's native village.
Ironically, the event was started on May 20, 2004, when Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has been stopped since Monday, an official said, adding that it has "not been completely done away with but temporarily halted".
Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan manager Avinash Kumar said the Ram Katha has been put on hold. He, however, did not ascribe any reasons, angering the Ayodhya community of saints, who have threatened to launch an indefinite agitation if it is not revived.
"This is not only completely unacceptable but also a decision that hurts the sentiments of the Hindu community," said an angry Vijay Bahadur Pathak, the state BJP spokesman, adding that the party will take up the issue in a big way if the decision is not reversed.
The institute gets Rs 2.73 crore every year from the state, the funds also being utilised for activities like publishing and research, apart from enacting the Ram Katha and the Ram Leela, which is witnessed by hundreds of the devout every evening.
In the past, Ram Leela has been staged in over 55 styles by some 150 troupes from all over the country, as also from the Maldives and Indonesia. Tourists from almost 17 countries have witnessed the play here. The feat has also been commended by Unesco, which has termed the Ram Leela a commendable effort to preserve an intangible heritage.
State government officials refused to comment on the issue, saying they would have to check back from their superiors. One official went a step further, claiming that that state government's intention was not to do something deliberately!
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)