In its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls that it released on January 28, the BJP had promised to explore all possibilities within the Constitution for building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. On May 31, two months after he was sworn in, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Ayodhya and stressed the need to find a solution to the title suit of the disputed site through talks, and assured support from the state government should talks be held to resolve the issue. He made similar remarks on his next visit to Ayodhya, on July 26.
Amid all this, the UP government has been stepping up efforts to revive a Hindutva identity for Ayodhya. The government has been focusing extensively on development and cultural activities in Ayodhya that revolves around Ram, the Ramayana, the Saryu river and other places across the town.
The latest step in promoting this idea is the plan to build a “grand statue” of Lord Ram on the banks of the Saryu, as part of a plan to showcase “Navya Ayodhya”. Sources said that the plan of building the proposed 100-metre statue needs the nod of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and that, therefore, options of building the statue inside the city too are being explored, in case the NGT denies construction near the Saryu river.
According to a UP government official, the Union Ministry of Tourism recently has sanctioned more than 50 development projects worth a total Rs 133.30 crore for Ayodhya and also released 20% of the budget. These projects include site development with other facilities at the Ram Katha Gallery, a memorial to Queen Heo (a legendary figure with an Ayodhya connection), a multipurpose hall at Digambar Akhada, illumination of the façade of Ram ki Paidi, landscaping, development of Guptar Ghat with landscaping and park development, works at Laxman Qila ghat, solar lighting at five ghats and 10 other places in the city, eight police booths, CCTV cameras at 30 locations, development of drainage and a solid waste management system in the city, and development of pedestrian streets from Chowk Ayodhya Road to Hanuman Garhi, Kanak Bhawan and Dasharath Bhawan.
Over the last fortnight leading to Diwali, ministers and officers of the UP government, especially from the CM’s Office, toured Ayodhya frequently and held meetings with Faizabad district administration regarding celebration of the festival in Ayodhya on Wednesday in the form of Deepotsav. The celebrations began at 7 am with a heritage walk in the city. At 1 pm, a Shobhayatra was taken out from Saket College to depict the arrival of Lord Ram in Ayodhya after winning the war against Ravana. When the Shobhyatra reached Ram Katha park, CM Yogi did a symbolic rajyabhishek (coronation) of Lord Ram. On the same site, the CM laid the foundation stone for a number of projects for Ayodhya. Other events included aarti at Saryu ghat, the lighting of 1.71 lakh earthen lamps at Ram ki Paidi, and Ram Leela performed by artistes from Indonesia and Si Lanka.
UP Governor Ram Naik, Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma were present on the occasion, along with a number of ministers of the UP government, as well as tourists and religious personalities. Ram Katha was displayed through a laser show. All these events were held at a distance of 2 to 5 km from the disputed site.
Another activity that has gathered pace ever since Yogi became CM is the arrival of stone blocks from Rajasthan for the proposed Ram temple. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders have been claiming that arrival of stones had stopped during previous non-BJP governments, before resuming in June this year. Around 50 blocks of stone have so far reached Ramsevakpuram, the workshop of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a body formed to oversee carving of stones and other works for building the proposed Ram temple. While the Nyas is stockpiling stone blocks, however, on site there has been only one artisan with a supervisor for over 10 months to carve the stones and design them for the temple. Carving of stones had begun in 1990 with more than 150 workers, but at present there is only the sole artisan.
The CM has announced that a two-lane road, Ram Janaki Marg, will be developed by the Centre to connect Ayodhya with Janakpur. He has also announced a Saryu Mahotsav in Ayodhya and development of roads in Ayodhya at a cost of Rs 50 crore. Following his directive, staging of Ram Leela has restarted on the premises of Ayodhya Research Institute under its aegis. Ram Leela in Ayodhya had ceased in the last several years.
Among the various projects, the UP government has decided start a helicopter service to connect places of religious tourism, including Ayodhya. On July 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off a weekly train, Shraddha Sethu Express, that links Ayodhya and Rameswaram
In another significant decision, the Yogi government has merged the municipal boards of Ayodhya and Faizabad to create the Ayodhya Nagar Nigam. For the first time, a mayor will be elected for Ayodhya in the urban local body polls likely to be held next month.
On April 4 this year, Mahesh Sharma met Yogi in Lucknow and discussed a Ramayam Museum project in Ayodhya. That Rs 154 crore project will showcase the life of Ram and the epic Ramayana through videos and laser shows. In October last year, Sharma had visited Ayodhya and inspected two prospective sites for the proposed Ramayana Museum project.
Among the various plans...
* Stone stockpiling for Ram temple
* Lord Ram statue
* Ramayana Museum @ Rs 154 crore
* Ram Leela revival
* Ayodhya Nagar Nigam, merging Ayodhya, Faizabad municipal boards
* Saryu Mahotsav
* Multipurpose hall at Digambar Akhada
* Illuminated façade for Ram ki Paidi
* Solar lighting at 5 ghats, other places
* Pedestrian streets from Chowk Ayodhya Road to Hanuman Garhi, Kanak Bhawan, Dasharath Bhawan
* Ram Janaki Marg between Ayodhya and Janakpur
* Queen Heo memorial
* Ram Katha gallery