NCP chief Sharad Pawar
NCP chief Sharad Pawar

After the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar took a swipe at PM Narendra Modi on the timing of the ground-breaking ceremony for the Ram temple, slated to take place on August 5, Maharashtra Congress leader and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat has claimed it is an attempt to divert public attention from the Centre’s failure in handling the coronavirus situation in the country.

Pawar received strong support from Thorat and also from veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh.

‘’This is a time of crisis. Our priority should be to curb the spread of the virus, save the lives of infected persons and restore normalcy. If we sail through this crisis, then we can go to Ayodhya and take darshan of Lord Ram,’’ said Thorat. He reiterated that the ground-breaking ritual has been planned to cover up the Centre’s failure in combating Covid-19.

However, Thorat's reaction to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit was guarded. He said it was a matter of faith for the CM.

Digvijaya Singh tweeted, ‘‘You have done the right thing, Pawar sir. I wish Modi-Shah would have done this at your request, then this situation would not have happened in the country.”

On Sunday, Pawar had said, ‘‘We are all thinking of how to fight the battle against coronavirus but some people think that coronavirus will be mitigated by building a temple. But our priority is to see how to improve the economy which has been affected by the lockdown.” He had further said, ‘‘The lockdown has created an economic crisis and we want to request the State and Central governments to pay attention to the issue.”

However, Shiv Sangram leader Vinayak Mete questioned why the pro-Hindutva CM Uddhav Thackeray was keeping quiet when Pawar had insulted the faith of Hindus.

Further, Leader of Opposition in the state council and BJP leader Pravin Darekar alleged that Pawar’s statement was to appease minorities. Mete, who is the BJP’s ally in Maharashtra and Darekar, not only attacked Pawar but targeted Thackeray, in a bid to pit the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies against each other on the politically sensitive Ram Mandir construction issue.

BJP leader and former Union Minister Uma Bharti said Pawar’s statement was against Lord Ram and not against PM Modi.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has been caught in cleft stick after the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s plainspeak on the temple issue. Sena sources admit that the BJP may use the differences of opinion on this emotive issue to highlight the ideological inconsistencies in the ruling MVA.

However, the Sena, which used the Ram temple agitation to signify its shift to rabid Hindutva politics since the late 1980s, claims that it does not need a formal invite to visit the temple town. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has stressed it was the Sena which paved the way for the construction of the Ram temple, which was for it, a matter of faith and not a political issue.

Legislator Pratap Sarnaik has written to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, seeking that the CM and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray be invited as a chief guest for the ceremony. Thackeray has visited Ayodhya thrice in the recent past.

“Practically speaking, Pawar is right. Considering the spread of the pandemic, the focus must be on combating corona. The Centre and the BJP may be using the Ram Temple as a ploy to divert attention from the larger economic crisis,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader.

The leader pointed to how in the initial days of the Ram temple movement, the late founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, had called for a hospital to be built at the disputed site. However, as the protest picked pace, the Shiv Sena, rather than the BJP and the Sangh Parivar outfits, took charge of the movement in Maharashtra. In 1992, when a mob of frenzied karsevaks felled the Babri Masjid, leading to communal conflagration, it was the Sena supremo who claimed he was proud of his boys if they had demolished the structure.

“The BJP is using the Ram Mandir issue to drive a wedge between the Shiv Sena and the Congress-NCP. However, this issue concerns the Centre, and is not part of the common minimum programme, (CMP) on the basis of which the Maha Vikas Aghadi has come into existence,” the leader explained.

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