Mahabharat over Ramayana Express

Published : Jul 14, 2018 08:57 am | By: M D Sridharan

Centre’s decision to launch “Ramyana Express” covering the places related to the revered Hindu epic Ramayana, has evoked severe criticism from the opposition.

Tourism industry is one of the major contributors for the economic development of a country. Besides, tourism segment has emerged as a significant source of income and employment.

Today’s competitive world and hectic life style demands a good vacation and majority of the people prefer to take a break from their daily routine. Many prefer to travel and explore places of historic as well as religious importance. Moreover, with the aid of the internet and the smartphones people get to know the history and the legend associated with a place which arouses their curiosity to explore further. Tourism provides a great opportunity to learn and comprehend in a more leisurely and relaxed manner.

For many people the sheer love of holiday travel is nothing short of getting rejuvenated.  Such is the power of tourism. In a land like India which is known for its rich culture and traditions, tourism occupies a pivotal place in one’s life. If one were to experience and observe different cultures and customs across India undoubtedly it will be more enjoyable.

The Indian Railways has decided to launch a special train named “Shri Ramayana Express”.  The train will cover  the places related to the revered  Hindu epic Ramayana, starting from Ayodhya - the birthplace of  Lord Shri Ram  and will reach the place  where Goddess Sita was held captive by the Demon King  Ravana - Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Aimed at improving the tourism , the train will cover all important destinations associated with the life of Lord Shri Ram in a 16 days all inclusive tour package  which   will cover meals, accommodation and wash and change facilities in dharmashalas, all transfers, sight-seeing arrangements.

Indian Rail Tourism and Catering (IRCTC) will run the 800-seater train. 
The all inclusive tour package and dedicated tour manager of IRCTC who will be travelling with the tourists during the entire tour which is spread both in the countries of India as well as Sri Lanka.   The ‘Shri Ramayana Yatra-Sri Lanka' pilgrimage will have two components - one each in India and Sri Lanka in which 4 destinations will be covered.  

After leaving Delhi, the train will make its first stop in Ayodhya followed by Hanuman Garhi Ramkot and Kanak Bhawan temple. The train will then cover the important destinations of Ramayana circuit such as Nandigram, Sitamarhi, Janakpur, Varanasi, Prayag, Shringverpur, Chitrakoot, Nasik, Hampi and Rameshwaram. Railways will facilitate trips by road from the station to the pilgrimage site. For those wishing to complete the last leg of their travel will start from Rameshwaram to Chennai by train, from where they will fly to the Sri Lankan capital. In Sri Lanka, people will visit Ramboda, Nuwara Elliya and Chilaw.

The railways will charge separately for India and Sri Lanka journey. 
"Priced at Rs 15,120 per person, the tour package will is going to be a favourite pick for the tourists aspiring for the same. The Sri Lanka leg of the tour will be charged separately. The passengers opting for Sri Lanka leg of the Ramayana Yatra package can take a flight to Colombo from Chennai. IRCTC presently offers 5-night/6-day Sri Lanka tour package. 

This unique pilgrim train which is likely to be soon chugging out of New Delhi Safdarjung railway station, on November 14, has invited severe criticism from the opposition parties. Congress has labelled the move as “majority appeasement in the election year”.

It is not the first time that the Indian Railways is providing pilgrim special tourist train packages.  With  a view to promote rail tourism in the country and to provide reasonably priced tourism package to tourists, especially the pilgrims in the country,  the Indian Railways has been engaged in providing such packages.

While Congress sees politics in pilgrimage and linking the “Ramayana Express” to appeasement is not acceptable. On the other hand BJP cites it will help to spread awareness about our rich culture and boost tourism.  Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said that the Shri Ramayana Express train will retrace the “epic journey of Lord Rama”.

How can providing a train service to pilgrimage centres will amount to appeasement? If so then what about the existing famous pilgrim circuits which have been facilitated during the UPA rule? When there exists Garib Nawab express and Hazrat Nizamuddin express to take Muslim pilgrims, why not Ramayana express to take Hindu pilgrims?  When promoting these special trains Congress claimed, it is being done for the “devotees’ convenience”. But, now when NDA comes out with “Ramayana Express”, Congress cries “appeasement”.

What is wrong in giving special emphasis on promotion of rail tourism?  What’s wrong even if all the routes are covered with a religious  perspective? Still it is part of tourism only. After all religious tourism can be a boon. Along with the tourism industry, many other industries like hotel and but for other industries associated with it too. Undoubtedly it is a commercial project by the Indian railway that underlines a business proposal. The project can also create good employment opportunity besides promoting the faith of the majority community.

The opposition also accused BJP for playing the “Ram” card every election time. BJP hit back saying that it is anti-Hindu to oppose such a move and questioned Congress: Is opposing pilgrimage is secularism? Let’s not forget Rahul Gandhi’s new found identity as “janeu dhari Hindu” and a “Shiv bhakt” who loves to go to temples and seeking blessings, but only during election times.

After all during the UPA rule amidst the controversy over the Sethusamudram project, the Congress told the Supreme Court that there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram or the other characters in Ramayana and filed an affidavit filed before the apex court. Its ally  the DMK in Tamil Nadu questioned where did Lord Ram learned engineering to build the Ram - Sethu bridge (Adam’s Bridge),  when there are ample proofs  both scientifically and historically that it was Lord Ram who built the bridge.

At a time when Congress was criticising “Ramayana Express” as  an “appeasement of the majority community”, its president Rahul Gandhi, was engaged in a Muslim outreach programme where he invited a select group of Muslim intellectuals to his residence and had discussions with an aim of garnering their support in 2019 elections.  

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “You can’t be janeu-dhari at one point and Muslim-dhari at another. Congress party is playing a dangerous game, playing communal division, playing up the card of religion. It is frightening that it may lead to the kind of division and kind of communal disharmony that prevailed during the 1947 partition. Congress party shall be solely responsible if any disharmony plays out between now and the 2019 elections”.  This clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Congress.

Another Congress leader and highly respected for his knowledge, simply went overboard. Shasi Tharoor made a highly controversial and potentially polarising statement.  The former Union Minister said:  “If they (BJP) win a repeat in the Lok Sabha, our democratic Constitution as we understand it will not survive as they will have all the elements they need to tear apart the Constitution of India and write a new one, that new one will be the one which will enshrine principles of Hindu Rashtra that will remove equality for minorities, that’ll create a Hindu Pakistan.”

In the Southern state of Kerala, the ruling CPM (M) which is known for its atheist ideologies, has decided to observe Ramayana month in Kerala. The Malayalam month of Karkidakkam, from 17 July to 16 August, is dedicated to the Ramayana. Is it not an attempt to reach out to Hindus after the party  failed to make a dent in the Christian and Muslim vote-banks? Let’s not forget earlier that the CPI leaders had ridiculed and branded BJP as communalists.  The fact remains that the rise of the BJP in the last remaining Communist bastion has made the CPI(M) deeply uncomfortable. While the  BJP has welcomed the party’s new found flirt with Hindus like the Congress,  the change of heart of  the CPI(M) is  a point to ponder over: Is it  secularism or appeasement for the sake of political survival ?.

Being one of the ancient civilizations with the majority of its people practicing one of the world’s oldest religions – Hinduism- it is nothing wrong in the government launching “Ramayana Express”. How can it be treated as a privilege for the majority community?  Of course, it is a boon for devoted Hindus to pay a visit to several intangible heritage sites that Lord Rama ventured and the government has decided to make the travel stay more comfortable for the pilgrims by extending all support. 



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