October 20, 2016

India: Inviting trouble - Parties mix religion and politics in UP (Editorial, The Triibune, 19 Oct 2016)

The Tribune - 19 October 2016


Few will believe Union minister Mahesh Sharma when he claims that his Ayodhya trip to finalise the site for a Ramayana museum is not politics driven. The timing itself is questionable. Any attempt to develop tourism anywhere is welcome but the choice of Ayodhya close to elections gives the game away. The move has enthused saffron firebrands — Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar, among them — and they have raised the pitch for building a Ram temple, an explosive issue. The agenda for use of religion in UP politics was officially kickstarted by the Prime Minister with his spirited “Jai Shri Ram” chant at the Dasehra event in Lucknow. The Ramayana museum’s potential for buying Hindu goodwill is unquestionable. To stop all Hindu votes going the BJP way, the Akhilesh government instantly collaborated with the Centre and found a 25-acre plot for the project. As Mahesh Sharma proceeded on his mission, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav hurriedly countered the move by announcing a theme park in Ayodhya’s proposed Ram Lila Centre. On Hindu matters, the Samajwadi Party does not wish to be seen as less enthusiastic than the BJP. Such competitive politics has its consequences. Playing the religious card has not helped the BJP in UP in the past. The other two contestants — BSP and Congress — had to be content with condemning what they called the mixing of religion and politics. In the SR Bommai case judgment the Supreme Court had held that “no political party can simultaneously be a religious party….” Apart from pandering to religious sentiments of voters the Union and state governments are guilty of not putting the taxpayers’ money to optimal use. Holy cities are usually filthy and bad at crowd management. All, including Ayodhya, need a holistic plan for sanitation and infrastructure. Tourists won’t come to visit one or two places of interest if the rest of the city stinks or facilities are lacking. The BJP government at the Centre should not narrow its thinking to tourism development in a poll-bound state. Think nationally. Its religious tourism spending should be secular.