An illuminated view of Ram ki Paudi on the bank of River Saryu ahead of the foundation stone laying ceremony of Ram Temple
An illuminated view of Ram ki Paudi on the bank of River Saryu ahead of the foundation stone laying ceremony of Ram Temple

Amit Shah is the most high-profile politician to be infected with the coronavirus. The 55-year-old Union Home Minister on Sunday got himself admitted in a private multi-disciplinary hospital in Gurgaon, Haryana, and advised everyone who had been in touch with him to self-quarantine himself. A number of ministers, top bureaucrats and aides have as a matter of abundant precaution home-isolated themselves. But Shah is not the only one to fall prey to the raging virus. Whether Shah met the Prime Minister in the last couple of days, or the two interacted through video-conferencing before he tested positive, is not clear, but Modi might have to take precautions regardless. On August 5th, Wednesday, the Prime Minister is scheduled to lay the foundation-stone of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya. Thus far there is no information about any change in the schedule for the bhoomi pujan. It is billed to be a huge event in nation’s post-Independence calendar. Modi is unlikely to skip such an epochal event. Nor is there any likelihood of it being put off for a more conducive date later when the threat of the coronavirus pandemic is well and truly behind us. The August 5th event has been overshadowed by the news not only about Shah contracting the virus but a couple of ministers in the UP Government too falling victim. In fact, one of the ministers in the Yogi Adityanath Government, Kamal Rani Varun, 62, succumbed to the virus in a Lucknow hospital last Friday. A number of her ministerial colleagues, as also the State BJP Chief Swantantra Dev Singh, were in self-quarantine, or in hospital following her demise from the coronavirus. The fear of the infection, and the need to take all precautions not only for themselves but for those who might come in contact with them, including the prime minister, has forced the UP Government to keep the guest list for the foundation-laying ceremony in Ayodhya to the barest minimum. There in Karnataka, Chief Minister B S Yeddiyurappa has gone into self-quarantine after he came in contact with a corona-positive colleague. Earlier, the State Health Minister had to quarantine himself after he was found to be corona-positive. Last week, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan tested positive and was admitted in a Bhopal hospital. On Sunday, the Tamil Nadu Governor Banwari Lal Purohit also tested positive. Of course, Shah is bound to miss what is being considered in the RSS-BJP circles a historic event on August 5.

The pandemic has prevented the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and others behind the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign from mounting the celebration of the historic day on a grander scale. It is said that an opportunity to assemble a million-plus gathering of Ram Bhakts on the auspicious occasion is being foregone in favour of its nation-wide live telecast by the public broadcaster, with private television channels feeling obliged to beam it live too for their own commercial interests. Though August 5 also marks the anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the ruling party is building a huge public narrative around the foundation-stone-laying ceremony of the Ram temple. Critics of the ruling party allege that the August 5 has been deliberately selected for the Ayodhya event in order to further rub salt on the wounds of those feeling angry by the abrogation of Article 370. Unfortunately, it is a fact of the Indian reality that those opposed to the abolition of Article 370 are also mostly opposed to the Ayodhya ceremony. But the RSS-BJP combine and the plethora of organizations affiliated with them are leaving no stone unturned to milk the bhoomi pujan for a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya to whip up religious fervour. People are told to sound temple bells across the country on August 4 and August 5 evening, and to light candles and earthen diyas to celebrate what is called an epochal, once a life-time event. The RSS-BJP objective to renew and rejuvenate the Hindu faith remains an on-going process. The gala Ayodhya event is expected to prove a huge booster in that process, yielding rich electoral dividends as a spin-off, the ruling party reckons. Meanwhile, as per the apex court order in the Ayodhya case, the UP Government has allotted a five-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque.

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