Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma has shrugged off the political uproar created by the announcement of the allocation of huge funds for the building a Ram Museum in Ayodhya saying the move is being taken to give a boost to tourism in India.
"Elections are a different thing. Our Prime Minister wants that the nation should develop through all means and similarly he wants development of our country through tourism, and this step will attract tourists," Sharma told ANI.
"When our government came to power, so, from the tourism perspective, we announced plans for theme based circuits, which included a Ram circuit, a Krishna circuit and a Buddha circuit. And under that announcement for Ramayan circuit, the government announced Rs 225 crore, for the Krishna circuit Rs 15 crore and a similar amount for the Buddha circuit," he added.
BSP supremo Mayawati criticised the move, saying it was being made for "electoral benefits".
The land for the proposed museum has been provided by the Uttar Pradesh government.
"Developing tourism in Ayodhya is good but, how come the Narendra Modi government thought of developing the Ramayana Sangrahalay (museum) and the state government of Ramleela theme park just before the Assembly polls," Ms Mayawati said in Lucknow.
"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," she added.
Congress leader and former Union minister RPN Singh accused the Modi government and BJP of invoking Ram months ahead of the assembly polls due early next year for deriving political mileage out of it.
"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. They repeatedly raise these issues," he said.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of development but what about action....When there is election, he goes to Lucknow to participate in Dussehra festivities and chants 'Jai Shri Ram'. Did he say Jai Shri Ram during Dussehra events last year wherever he went?" he said.
The proposed museum revived the demand for construction of Ram temple, with BJP leaders like Union Minister Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar pitching for it.
Mr Katiyar went on to demand tabling of a legislation in the Lok Sabha where the BJP-led NDA has a "massive majority".
"Every devotee of Ram wants the temple to be constructed soon. Until that happens we cannot live in peace. Be it through a bill in Parliament, through dialogue or a court verdict, the government has to find a solution.
"Of course, we don't have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, but a bill for construction of the temple can be brought in the Lok Sabha where we have a massive majority. The Ram temple was also a part of BJP's election manifesto," he said, adding "no deadline can be set for the government on this issue".
Uma Bharti, another leader with strong views on the Ram temple movement, said, "The issue is what we, the agitators, were claiming as the place where Lord Ram was born was indeed that place or not. A three-judge bench (of Allahabad High Court) agreed with our contention.
"What is under challenge is the dispute over land between the Waqf Board and Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, not that whether Ram was born there or not," she said.
Mahesh Sharma, however, insisted his visit to Ayodhya had nothing to do with the UP polls, but said he would be visiting the makeshift temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex.
"My visit to Ayodhya has nothing to do with UP Assembly elections. I am visiting there as a Tourism Minister. It should not be linked to politics but is part of government's effort to improve tourism in Ayodhya and all over the country. The visit is part of developmental agenda," he said.