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Business News/ Politics / 2024 Lok Sabha Polls: Can Nitish Kumar's plan to redevelop Sitamarhi act as a challenge to BJP's Ayodhya move?

2024 Lok Sabha Polls: Can Nitish Kumar's plan to redevelop Sitamarhi act as a challenge to BJP's Ayodhya move?

Nitish Kumar's decision to redevelop space related to Sita has earned him allegations of practicing 'soft Hindutva' ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Aftab Alam siddiqui)Premium
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Aftab Alam siddiqui)

The upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha Elections will see both Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the Opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc pull all stop to make headway in a bid to win India's governance seat. 

The Laal Krishna Advani-led Ram Mandir movement materialised in 2019 owing to a Supreme Court decision ruling in favour of the Hindu side, during the Narendra Modi governance period, giving the saffron party an edge with the religious fundamentalists. 

Now the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar government has announced the Bihar government's 72-crore plan to redevelop the Punourdham in Sitamarhi. This is being seen as the INDIA bloc member's attempt to directly contest the saffron party's Ayodhya bid, even as Janata Dal (UNited) members try to posit Nitish Kumar as the Prime Ministerial face for the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. 

Bihar government's Punourdham in Sitamarhi 

Like Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh is believed to be the birthplace of Valmiki Ramayana's Ram, Sitamarhi in Bihar is believed to be the birthplace of Ram's wife Sita. 

Nitish Kumar government's plan involves setting up of a parikrama path (a path to circumambulate the temple) with a roof and sandstone pillars. A Sita Vatika (Sita’s garden), Luv-Kush Vatika (Luv-Kush garden) and a shanti mandap (area for meditation) are also being planned besides a cafeteria and a parking lot, according to media reports.

A 3-D animation film, depicting Sita’s life, is also in the pipeline.

Nitish Kumar versus BJP

Nitish Kumar's decision to redevelop space related to Sita, has earned him allegation of practicing ‘soft Hindutva’ ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha Polls from BJP. Notably, the Bihar CM had broken off his alliance with BJP in 2022 and joined hands with Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Jal (RJD) bringing in Tejashwi Yadav as the deputy chief minister. 

Further, the JD(U) has made claims that BJP has only been concentrating on the development of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya while ignoring places believed to be associated with Sita

Hindutva and Bihar

Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is being seen as a landmark for Hindutva politics in India. Nitish Kumar's Sitamarhi development plan comes only a month before the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony, scheduled to be held on 22 January, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in attendance. 

The state of Bihar has empirically favoured a socialist form of politics, which gave Nitish Kumar's caste-based census it's much required impetus. 

Historically it has been observed that BJP, as an independent party, lost its charm with the people of Bihar, since after the demolition of Babri Masjid. On 23 October the then Indian Prime Minister VP Singh had authorised Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then Chief Minister of Bihar, to arrest LK Advani as the Ram Yatra crossed the border with the state of Uttar Pradesh. 

After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the BJP performed poorly in the subsequent elections. In the 1995 elections, BJP managed to get only 41 of the 324 (undivided Bihar) seats. 

The BJP has also not been able to dominate electorally when it has contested alone. In the 2015 elections, despite the Narendra Modi wave, the party managed to win only 91 of the 243 seats.

Sitamarhi in INDIA vs BJP

 The notion that BJP has only been concentrating on Ram, as opposed to Sita was not only perpetrated by the JD(U), it has found space in INDIA bloc's dialogues as well. 

They have regularly hit out at BJP’s Hindutva push that has come to be encapsulated by the slogan “Jai Shri Ram".

During the Haryana leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra earlier this year, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said at a public meeting, “Yeh (RSS) ‘Jai Siya Ram’ kabhi nahi kehte. Inhone Sita ji ko naare se nikaal diya; utha ke bahar fenk diya. Yeh hamare itihaas ke khilaaf kaam kiya inhone. I am telling you (Congress workers), every time you come across an RSS worker, ask them to say ‘Jai Siya Ram’. Kyunki, jitne jaroori Ram the, utni jaroori hi Sita ji thi."


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Sayantani is a Chief Content Producer with Livemint. Her interests are politics, war, and conflict. Off-duty, she explores cultural history and the 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
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Published: 22 Dec 2023, 02:08 PM IST
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