Indian tourism minister Mahesh Sharma's planned visit to the ancient city of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama who is worshipped by Hindus, has brought the contentious issue of the construction of the Ram temple back in the political discourse.
Hindu and Muslim communities in the poll-bound state have long been divided over the ownership of the land, with the Wakf board (religious charity recognised by Muslim law) claiming it to be the location of the centuries-old Babri Mosque.
The minister will visit the proposed site for setting up a Ramayana museum on Tuesday what many say is an attempt to woo pro-Hindu elements ahead of the state elections. The land for the museum has been provided by the Uttar Pradesh state government.
Sharma sought to clarify that the construction of the museum is unrelated to the forthcoming elections and is intended to be part of the Ramayana circuit.
"My visit to Ayodhya has nothing to do with assembly elections. I am visiting there as a tourism minister. It should not be linked to politics. It is part of government's effort to improve tourism in Ayodhya and all over the country. The visit is part of the government's developmental agenda," Sharma told news channel, News18.
He will also hold a meeting with the Ramayana Circuit Advisory Board to discuss routes for connecting Ramayana-related sites in Nepal and Sri Lanka with the proposed museum.
Political parties in the state, however, questioned the timing of the visit, saying it was being made for "electoral benefits".
"Linking religion with politics and electoral gains by these governments is condemnable... had they really been so concerned about these issues, they would have thought about them long ago," former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said.
Congress, too, accused the Narendra Modi government of deriving political mileage out of the visit. "We shouldn't be surprised. Every five years we see the same drama unfolding. Whenever polls are in the state, they talk of Ram, Ram temple, Ram sangrahalaya (museum). They repeatedly raise these issues," former union minister RPN Singh said.
The tourism minister's visit has once again revived the demand for construction of Ram temple with Bharatiya Janata Party hardliners pitching for it.
BJP leader Vinay Katiyar urged the government to take steps for the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya site, emphasising that the temple had been a priority for the party.