The Congress on Wednesday turned down the invitations to its leadership to attend the January 22 consecration, or pran pratishtha, of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The move indicates the party is prepared to fight a prolonged ideological battle on the issue if needed, even at the cost of any electoral reverses rather than surrender to Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva politics.
“The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain,” the Congress stated in a statement issued by party’s General Secretary (communication) Jairam Ramesh.
The Congress said millions in India worshipped Lord Ram and pointed out that religion was a personal matter, “but the RSS and the BJP have long made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya”.
“While abiding by the 2019 Supreme Court judgment and honouring the sentiments of millions who revere Lord Ram, Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury have respectfully declined the invitation to what is clearly an RSS-BJP event,” Ramesh said.
Last month, Congress President Kharge, Congress parliamentary party chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Chowdhury, were invited to attend the inauguration ceremony.
However, some of the Congress’ state units and leaders, such as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, have announced they would attend the ceremony.
Vikramaditya Singh, a minister in the Sukhu-led government and the son of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, has said he would attend the ceremony and thanked the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) for the invite.
In a post on X, Congress Gujarat legislator Arjun Modhwadia, a former party state unit chief, criticised his party’s decision. “Lord Ram is worshipped by the people of the country. It is a matter of their faith. The Congress should have refrained from taking such a political decision.”
After Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury declined the Ram temple invite, the Kerala unit of the Congress also opposed the party leadership attending the ceremony. However, on Saturday, in neighbouring Congress-ruled Karnataka, the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Department, or the Muzrai Department, under the state government, asked the 34,563 state-run temples to mark January 22 with prayers.
However, the party is likely to flag the contradictions within Hinduism over the Ram temple consecration.
Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, the 145th Jagadguru Shankaracharya of the Purvamnaya Govardhan Peetham of Puri, told the media on Tuesday: “When (Narendra) Modi Ji will do the consecration at the temple and will touch the idol, will I be going there to clap?” He said people should think what was left for dharmacharya (religious preachers) to do in Ayodhya if the prime minister was doing everything, but lauded him for showing respect to Sanatan Dharma.
Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati, 1008th Shankaracharya of the Jyotish Peeth in Uttarakhand, said the inauguration of the partially constructed temple was inconsistent with tradition and being done for political gains. Some religious leaders have also pointed to senior VHP leader Champat Rai’s comments that the Ram temple belonged to the Ramanand sect and its followers and not to Shankaracharyas, Shaivas and Shaktas.
The Congress’ response to Hindutva politics has been inconsistent in recent years. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress social media team highlighted the party’s role in the construction of the Ram temple, pointing out that the locks to the makeshift temple inside the disputed Babri Masjid were opened during the party’s rule in Uttar Pradesh in 1986, and Rajiv Gandhi’s role in facilitating shilanyas of the temple the same year. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi launched the Congress Lok Sabha campaign from Ayodhya.
In turning down the invite, the Congress has joined some of its INDIA bloc allies, such as the CPI(M). Another ally, Samajwadi Party’s chief Akhilesh Yadav, on Tuesday said he would visit the temple later. “The BJP and its associated wings are nobody to send such an invitation to me on behalf of God. I’ll worship at the temple with my family members only when God calls me,” Yadav said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday the BJP was indulging in a “gimmick show” through the inauguration of Ram temple ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. She said that “she does not support festivities that exclude other communities”.
First Published: Jan 10 2024 | 7:42 PM IST