On Ram Temple Day, PM Will Be In Ayodhya, Opposition Leaders Will...

The opposition is aware it cannot fully neglect the 'pran pratishtha' or the Ram Temple; to do so would alienate too many voters in its bid to defeat the BJP in the 2024 general election.

The opposition INDIA bloc is looking to unite and defeat the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Monday headline the controversial 'pran pratishtha', or consecration ceremony, of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, weeks before a Lok Sabha election, in a mega spectacle billed by the ruling BJP as the "fulfilment of a divine dream" and accompanied by big-ticket infrastructure projects in and around the town, such as a new airport and a refurbished railway station.

The list of invitees for the grand Ram Temple Ayodhya event is long - reportedly over 10,000 - but exclusive; in fact, it is so select that it excludes all of the BJP's chief ministers, except for Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand right-wing leader in whose state, Uttar Pradesh, the temple is being built.

It does, though, include senior opposition leaders, including Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge, party matriarch Sonia Gandhi, and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, none of whom will be present.

READ | "Religion Is Personal Matter": Congress Rejects Ram Temple Event Invite

The opposition INDIA bloc's reaction to the 'pran pratishtha' has made headlines too, with members criticising the BJP for politicising a religious event. The Congress declined its invite saying "religion is a personal matter"; MP Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday called it a "Narendra Modi function". Ms Banerjee, whose Trinamool is an implacable enemy of the BJP, also underlined the religion-politics divide.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray have all also turned down invitations, criticising, some more subtly than others, the BJP's rush to consecrate an under-construction temple and accusing it of looking to bolster its vote bank.

The opposition, though, is aware it cannot fully neglect the 'pran pratishtha' or the Ram Temple; to do so would alienate too many voters in its bid to defeat the BJP this year. Therefore, the Congress, Ms Banerjee, Mr Thackeray, and the others will headline events of their own on January 22.

Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat Visit

The Bengal Chief Minister on Tuesday shot down reporters' questions about "various temples", declaring "I have nothing to say about it... religion is a personal issue". She did, though, say she plans to visit the Kalighat temple near Kolkata on January 22, and then hold a "communal harmony rally".

READ | For January 22, Mamata Banerjee Plans Communal Harmony Rally

The rally will include people from all communities and touch base at temples, churches, gurudwaras, and mosques on its route, before concluding with a meeting at south Kolkata's Park Circus Maidan.

Rahul Gandhi's Assam Temple Plan?

Mr Gandhi is on his second cross-country yatra - the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, a follow-up to the Bharat Jodo Yatra that helped the Congress win last year's Telangana and Karnataka elections.

READ | "Narendra Modi Function": Rahul Gandhi On Congress Skipping Ram Temple Event

He will be in Assam on January 22 and will visit a temple as part of the day's activities.

Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav To Visit Later

Mr Pawar has been more circumspect in his response, expressing gratitude for the invitation but saying he would not attend since "it will be easier to get darshan" after the "historic event". "By then Ram Temple construction will also be complete," he said, in a comment seen a veiled swipe at the BJP.

Arvind Kejriwal's Ram/Hanuman Outreach

The AAP boss and Delhi Chief Minister has not yet been invited, and is not expected to now, but has announced 'Sundar Kand' and 'Hanuman Chalisa' programmes across the national capital.

READ | Kejriwal Attends 'Sundar Kand' Recital, Seeks Lord Ram's Blessings

"I pray to Lord Ram and Hanuman all of your wishes are granted..."

Uddhav Thackeray's "Maha Aarti"

The ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister, fighting to reunite his Shiv Sena after the Eknath Shinde-led split last year, has also not yet received an invitation. However, Mr Thackeray has said he and his party leaders will visit the Kalaram Temple in Nashik on January 22, and perform a "maha aarti".

READ | No Invite For Ram Temple Ceremony, Uddhav Thackeray To Do...

Dedicated to Lord Ram, the temple is named for the idol carved out of black stone. It is believed Ram stayed in Panchavati, which is in the Nashik area, with Sita and Lakshman during their exile.

Lalu Yadav, DMK, Left Snub Invites

Lalu Prasad Yadav, the founder and patriarch of the RJD that is part of Bihar's ruling coalition, said Wednesday that he will not attend either, and Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK has already slammed the BJP for hijacking a spiritual event to "divert the attention of the people" before an election.

READ | "Only Those Invited By Lord Ram... ": BJP On Temple Event Row

The Left, led by the CPIM, was among the first of the opposition to make its position clear; as early as last month the CPIM's Brinda Karat said her party would skip the event. "No, we will not go. We respect the religious beliefs... but they are connecting a religious programme with politics," she said.

Naveen Patnaik's Jagannath Counter

Amid the build-up for the Ram Temple ceremony, Odisha has big plans for the unveiling of the Jagannath Heritage Corridor, a strategic move by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's BJD to not only boost religious sentiments but also outmaneuver the BJP in the state.

READ | Naveen Patnaik's Jagannath Temple Gambit Amid Ram Temple Build-Up

The state has invested over Rs 4,000 crore, in a monumental endeavor under the 'Ama Odisha, Nabin Odisha' scheme aimed at transforming Puri's infrastructure.

The Ram Temple - still being built - will cost, by most estimates, nearly Rs 2,000 crore and is widely expected to be the centrepiece of the Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for the April/May general election, when Mr Modi will seek, and almost certainly get, an unprecedented third consecutive term.

READ | "Devotee Chosen By Lord Ram": LK Advani Praises PM Modi

Preparations for Monday's ceremony began Tuesday evening with the start of a series of rituals that will end with the Ram Lalla idol, sculpted by a Mysuru-based artist - being installed in the temple.

Mr Modi will deliver a speech at the end of the ceremony.

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