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Above: CM Yogi Adityanath and South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook (far left) with Ramlila artistes in Ayodhya /Photo: UNI

Adityanath’s announcement of a Ram statue in Ayodhya seems an attempt to quell the growing chorus of discontent from the RSS and bhakts over temple construction there

By Atul Chandra in Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s much hyped assurance of a huge statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya has deflated the expectations of his bhakts who were rooting for a temple at the disputed site, but without any specifics about its location, height and cost. The statement, in fact, was similar to the one he made a year ago.

Last year, a proposal for a 100 m statue in Ayodhya was presented to Governor Ram Naik. A communiqué from the governor’s office had said: “On receipt of clearance by the National Green Tribunal, a grand statue of Lord Sri Ram will be constructed on the banks of the Saryu.”

In March this year, the state’s principal secretary, tourism, was quoted in the media as saying that the government had plans to attract corporate funds for the statue’s estimated cost of Rs 330 crore and Rs 350 crore for the development of New Ayodhya.

He did not mention how much land would be acquired and if the estimated cost included the compensation to be paid for land acquisition.

A day after he visited the temple town with South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook on November 6, Adityanath visited Ayodhya again to celebrate the festival of lights, Diwali. On day one of his visit, he renamed Faizabad as Shri Ayodhya, while on day two, he promised to install a statue of Lord Ram. “There will be a statue of Lord Ram here that will be a tourist attraction. Its particulars will be decided according to the land,” Adityanath said.

To ward off mounting pressure from those clamouring for a Ram temple at the disputed site, Adityanath said that the towering statue of Lord Ram will become a symbol of Ayodhya’s identity. Asserting that discussions about the statue were in the last phase, the chief minister stated that two sites had been identified for the statue but left out details about its height.

Reports about the height of the statue to be built somewhere along the Saryu river invited ridicule from former Samajwadi Party minister Azam Khan who questioned the logic of Lord Ram’s statue being smaller than that of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The recently unveiled Statue of Unity in Gujarat is 182 m tall and occupies 20,000 sq m and is surrounded by a 12 sq km artificial lake.

Taking on the Adityanath government, Azam said that Lord Ram’s statue should be taller than that of Sardar Patel. This set off speculation that the statue in Ayodhya would be 151 m tall. A senior official of UP Rajkiya Nirman Nigam, which floated a tender for it, was quoted as saying that the statue would be 150 m and built on a 50 m high pedestal, giving it a height of over 200 m. He was also quoted as saying that after technical evaluation of bids, five firms were shortlisted for the project’s architecture and design work.

Although he was expected to make a public announcement about cost and height of the statue, Adityanath offered no confirmation of these details during his Ayodhya visits and left the faithful guessing. Even the principal secretary, tourism, did not issue any clarification on these points.

That the government has still not got big-ticket investment rolling in the state and the queue of job-seekers is getting longer by the day appears less of a concern for it. Instead, it is seized of religious issues ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The statement on the Ayodhya statue came even as the demand for the much-promised Ram temple at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site gained strength. With the RSS and the Sant Samaj mounting pressure on the government to bring in legislation to allow temple construction, the promise of a statue was seen as a diversionary tactic.

Mahant Paramhans Das, who recently went on a week-long hunger strike for a Ram temple, has threatened suicide if the temple construction dates are not announced by December 5. “Crores of Hindus were promised a Ram temple in Ayodhya by the BJP. Our Diwali will only be grand once a grand temple of Lord Ram is built. BJP must immediately bring legislation in Parliament, otherwise I will set myself on fire on December 6 (Babri Masjid demolition anniversary). Instead of speaking about a gift on Diwali, Yogi Adityanath should tell us the date for Ram Mandir’s construction,” Paramhans reportedly said.

The RSS and the seers were upset that the Supreme Court had deferred hearing of the vexed issue to January 2019 even as they had expected the temple construction to begin by November this year. The chief minister bought peace with the seers by saying that “the temple was here and will be here but whatever happens will be within the parameters of the Constitution”.

But Adityanath had nothing more than two symbolic gifts to offer. One was the announcement about the landmark statue of Lord Ram and the other was the renaming of Faizabad district as Shri Ayodhya. The rechristening came close on the heels of Allahabad’s name being changed to Prayagraj.

The announcement of name change came in the presence of the South Korean First Lady on November 6 when three lakh diyas (earthen lamps) were lit in an attempt to enter the Guinness World Records. A similar attempt with 1.71 lakh diyas had failed in 2017.

In May last year, the state government had granted municipal corporation status to the civic body of Ayodhya, a twin city of Faizabad identified as the Awadh region. The creation of the Ayodhya Nagar Nigam saw the deletion of Faizabad and was an indication of things to come.

By bringing in Kim Jung-sook to take part in the ground-breaking ceremony for the beautification of a memorial dedicated to Queen Heo, the legendary princess of Ayodhya who married a Korean king in AD 48 and lighting of earthen lamps, the government was able to put Ayodhya on the international map for reasons other than the mandir-masjid controversy.

However, neither the temple nor the statue is anywhere in sight.

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