After grabbing headlines for most of the year, it is perhaps fitting that Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma is cautious on every point. In an interview to The Hindu , he says construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya is “the dream of the people of India and what is articulated by our party [Bharatiya Janata Party] is that there should be a Ram temple in Ayodhya — of course, after a decision by the court or through mutual agreement by all parties.”
It is an oft-repeated party line, but its timing, a year before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and just as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is ramping up its campaign for temple construction, make it a talking point.
Dr. Sharma said the Vishwa Hindu Parishad sending stones to the temple town, ostensibly for the construction of the temple, was “a matter pertaining to the VHP, not to me.”
A year of controversies He insisted on taping the interview after a year full of controversies triggered by his various statements, and reportedly some tough-talking from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Dr. Sharma was cautious even when asked about the forensic report in the Dadri lynching case that said the meat found in the house of the victim, Mohammad Akhlaq, was mutton. On Tuesday, local papers reported that while speaking to the press in Bulandshahr, he had said there should be a CBI investigation into the matter.
To The Hindu , he said: “I am not an expert in the matter; this is a matter pertaining to law and order in the State.” He refused to say anything more.
Elaborating on the temple issue, he said his statements were not to be considered suo motu, but offered as answers to specific questions.
“I have not sent a statement or held a press conference on the matter,” he said. “I hew to the party line and the money that the Ministry of Tourism has allotted to a Ram museum in Ayodhya is similar to the funds that have been given for such projects on the Buddhist and other circuits.”
Asked if he was being cautious in terms of taping his interviews because of Mr. Modi’s strictures, he said: “The Prime Minister is like a mukhia of our pariwar [the patriarch of the family]; he has every right to speak to us on anything. I am not an illiterate man, but yes, I may not have the finesse on what to say to the press. The press has quoted me out of context in the past,” he said.
Dr. Sharma’s comments on the temple issue, however, are being seen as a sort of positioning for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls due in 2017. Some are even saying he could be a CM candidate. Dr. Sharma merely said: “I’m very happy with the ministerial portfolio, and all this is just speculation.”