Sena links Ram temple fund drive to 2024 LS polls; BJP refutes

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(Eds: Adds Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut's quotes) Mumbai, Dec 21 (PTI) The Shiv Sena on Monday alleged that the mass contact initiative to collect funds from the public for the Ram temple construction in Ayodhya is akin to 'canvassing' for the 2024 general elections in the name of Lord Ram.

The BJP, however, dismissed the charge, saying it is not a political issue for the party, and accused the Shiv Sena of laying roadblocks earlier in the bhoomi pujan of Ram temple construction and now by creating hurdles in the donation initiative 'in which people are participating voluntarily'.

An editorial in Sena mouthpiece 'Saamana' said it was never decided that the grand temple will be constructed through public donations, and political campaigning in the name of Lord Ram has to be stopped at some point of time.

'But, the issue of public donations is not simple. It is political,' it alleged.

Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust's general secretary Champat Rai last week said the trust is going to start a mass contact and contribution campaign across the country for construction of the temple.

The temple will be built using domestic funds collected from the general public through the mass contact programme as the trust doesn't have required approvals for accepting donations from abroad, Rai said.

The Marathi daily, without naming any party or organisation, said, 'The temple, basically, is not being built for political gains of a political party, but for unfurling the pennants of Hindu pride of the country.' It claimed four lakh volunteers will implement the mass contact initiative.

'This mass contact programme is campaigning for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in the name of Lord Ram. The political campaigning of Lord Ram's name has to be stopped at some point of time. But it cannot be seen (as happening),' it said.

The editorial asked who the volunteers (for the mass contact drive) exactly are and sought clarity about their parent organisation.

It said hundreds of kar sevaks 'shed their blood and made sacrifices' during the temple construction campaign, and asked whether it should be built seeking donations.

'It will be an insult of each soul that shed blood for the temple (construction purpose) if the volunteers are going to campaign for a political party in the name of seeking donations,' the Shiv Sena said.

'The fight for the temple was not political, but an outbreak of Hindu emotions,' it claimed.

VHP leader Ashok Singhal, Vinay Katiyar and others had camped in Ayodhya during the early days of the temple construction campaign, the editorial noted.

BJP veteran L K Advani launched the 'Rath Yatra' taking the campaign across the country, while 'hammers came down' on the tomb of Babri Mosque through the inspiration of Shiv Sena's founder late Bal Thackeray, it said.

'This is the history. But today, Ayodhya's Ram temple is becoming a subject of ownership rights,' it alleged.

Talking to reporters here on Monday, Shiv Sena MP and Saamana's Executive Editor Sanjay Raut said, 'It is the insult of Lord Ram and Hindutva if donations are sought in the God's name, going door-to-door.' Without naming any party, he also called for stopping the 'political drama' in the name of the Lord Ram.

The temple is being constructed after court order. The prime minister performed its bhoomi pujan, he noted.

Several generous people are making donations in the trust's bank account, Raut said, adding that the Shiv Sena, too, has given Rs 1 crore for the purpose.

'For whose campaigning are you then sending these four lakh volunteers? Now, stop this political drama in the name of Lord Ram. The Ram temple is being constructed and now you stop this politics,' he said.

Meanwhile, reacting to the editorial, BJP MLA and former Maharashtra minister Ashish Shelar said, 'Why are they afraid? Why is Raut publicly laying the foundation of their defeat in the 2024 polls?' 'For the BJP, it (temple construction) was not a political issue and is not a political issue,' he asserted.

Shelar accused the Shiv Sena of taking 'Ram virodhi (anti-Ram)' positions by earlier laying roadblocks in the bhoomi pujan of Ram temple construction and now by creating hurdles in the donation initiative 'in which common people are participating voluntarily'.

He noted the 'battles and sacrifices' made during the temple campaign by the RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP, and leaders like Ashok Singhal, Uma Bharati and others.

'Those who only politically intruded into the campaign felt a stomachache at the time of Ram temple construction bhoomi pujan and now the 'Ram (temple construction) donation' is rankling their eyes,' he alleged.

Speaking to reporters later, the BJP leader asked where do those 'who run the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) as per the will of contractors' have the habit of making donations through their own pockets.

The Shiv Sena-ruled BMC is the richest civic body in the country. PTI ENM GK GK