Kharge, Sonia decide to skip Ram Temple event

BJP, RSS have advanced the inauguration of the incomplete temple for electoral gains, says Congress leadership; a section of the party worries this will let BJP target them as anti-Hindu, polarise the electorate

Updated - January 10, 2024 11:27 pm IST

Published - January 10, 2024 04:34 pm IST

 Congress Party President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Sonia Gandhi. File.

Congress Party President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Sonia Gandhi. File. | Photo Credit: ANI

Describing the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya as “incomplete”, the Congress on Wednesday announced that its leaders would not be attending the consecration ceremony of Lord Ram’s idol on January 22, alleging that the event had been brought forward for electoral gains. 

In a statement, the Congress said that the temple at Ayodhya has been a “political project” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). 

Also read | Opposition continues to struggle with calibrating a response to Ram temple festivities

A senior Congress leader from Gujarat, Arjun Modhwadia, however, struck a discordant note and said that Lord Ram was a matter of faith, on which the party should avoid taking political positions.

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, and the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury were invited to the pran pratistha (consecration ceremony) by the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust.

‘Electoral gain’

“Lord Ram is worshipped by millions in our country. Religion is a personal matter. But the RSS/BJP have long made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya. The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain,” Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said in a statement.

“While abiding by the 2019 Supreme Court judgment and honouring the sentiments of millions who revere Lord Ram, Shri Mallikarjun Kharge, Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Shri Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury have respectfully declined the invitation to what is clearly an RSS/BJP event,” Mr. Ramesh added.

BJP attack

Reacting to the Congress’ decision, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur accused the party of always taking a stance against Lord Ram.

“This is the same Congress which had given an affidavit calling Shri Ram imaginary. This is the same Congress which had promised that we will build Babri Masjid again at the same place. This is the same Congress which had raised an army of lawyers to ensure that Ramlala’s temple is not built,” Mr. Thakur said.

Divided opinions

In fact, opinions are divided within the Congress. A section of the party was keen to attend the event; a senior leader argued that the “the absence of the principal Opposition party will allow the BJP to target us as anti-Hindu and use it to polarise the electorate”.

Mr. Modhvadia, former leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, was clear in his disagreement with the party leadership. “Lord Shri Ram is a revered god. This is a matter of faith and belief of the countrymen. @INCIndia should have stayed away from taking such political decisions,” he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Leaders of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress plan to visit Ayodhya on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on January 15 to take a dip in the Saryu river and then visit the Ram temple and the Hanumangarhi temple.

On Monday, Congress leader and the Minister for Public Works Department in Himachal Pradesh, Vikramaditya Singh — who is also the son of the late former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh — had announced that he would attend the event. “My father was always in favour of Ram Temple movement. It is not a political issue for us; it is a religious matter. We are Hindu and taking our religion forward, and entrusting faith in our traditions is our culture, and we will keep moving in this direction,” Mr. Singh had said. 

High-level consultation

The issue of handling the invitation for the consecration ceremony to Congress’ top leadership is politically sensitive and has been discussed at the highest level. Sources told The Hindu that soon after Mr. Kharge and Ms. Gandhi received their invitations, there was a meeting of top leaders to decide the party’s position.

Apart from Mr. Kharge and Ms. Gandhi, other senior Congress leaders who were consulted include P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni, K.C. Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Digvijaya Singh, and Randeep Surjewala.

“The [Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra] Trust doesn’t belong to any party. What is the objection in going? Sonia ji is quite positive. Either she will go or our delegation will attend,” Mr. Digvijaya Singh had earlier said. 

The Congress, however, cannot depute anyone in place of its top leaders as the invitations are non-transferable.

(With inputs from Nistula Hebbar in New Delhi and Mahesh Langa in Ahmedabad)

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