It is not enough. The formation of R K Pachauri committee to look into the feasibility of Setu Samudram and relocation of channel in a way that Ram Setu can be protected looks attractively reasonable and yet shows a skin deep respect and knowledge about Hindu beliefs.
It took enormous amount of protest organization for the last one-year at-least to make this government see a little light of reason. 35 lakh signatures on a protest memorandum were submitted to the then President A P J Abdul Kalam, a massive congregation on national level was held in Delhi attended by more than three lakh men, women and children from Kanya Kumari to Kargil. Stilll this government which is scornfully dismissive of any Hindu protest wouldn't have budged an inch if, yes, its a really big IF, elections were not round the corner. Its buying time.
Otherwise the Setu Samudram project, about which serious security, ecological, economical and religious concerns have been raised by objective stalwarts like Vice Admiral Contractor (DG, Coast Guards), Justice K T Thomas, Justice V R Krishna Aiyar, et al should have been scrapped and the Ram Setu declared a national monument. There is now ample data to show that the Setu Samudram project is a non-viable project and a threat to security and the environment.
If the government wills, it takes decision in a day, if it wants to confuse and dither, committees are appointed. The Ram Setu issue too is facing the same 'slap and balm' tactics. First they refused to accept the existence of Ram, then said, ok Ram was there but he destroyed the Setu and in support of this contention misquoted scriptures, then a committee is appointed. If government was sure of any one point it submitted to the Supreme Court, why now the committee? If it wants to respect Hindu sentiments why not come clean and say, ok, we are sorry to have recognised the reality too late, now the Setu is declared national heritage . Done.But they wont do it. For the simple reason it is Ram Setu and not a Nehru bridge, which would have needed no proofs and no committees. There is an old haveli in Allahabad where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was born. We learnt from our textbooks that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It is an old British idiom, meaning his family was very rich. That house has been declared a national monument and all his spoons, clothes, almirahs, achkans etc have been preserved as national heritage for public viewing. The expense for this is paid by the Indian public and not by the family of the person who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and whose descendants are not below the poverty line either.
Another house in the heart of New Delhi, a palatial one since the British commander in chief used to live there, which Nehru used as our first prime minister, has also been declared a national monument, and all his belongings including spectacles and churidars are well-preserved for posterity. This too is done using public money because he was a beloved leader of the people.
There are important roads in Delhi and all over the country named after Motilal Nehru, Kamla Nehru, Swarup Rani Nehru and of course Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi. Quite justifiably so, because they were all leaders of India. The other family-wallahs were just followers and hence can be forgotten like Veer Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, K B Hedgewar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Lal Bahadur Shastri, etc. The best way to protect your illegal slum colony and get into the voters list is to name it after the Nehru clan. No one would dare to touch it, ever. It becomes instantly sanctified and a national heritage. It's true of Delhi, Mumbai and other metros.
But Ram Setu? Isn't it named after a person who called himself Ram? He has become a new icon for saffron communalism and hence should be discarded. The millennium-old collective memory all over the globe about the bridge he built is unprovable by any document.
So, our learned counsel, Fali S Nariman, whose Parsi ancestors were driven out of their homeland Iran by Islamic zealots and given refuge by the ardent followers of Ram, said in the Supreme Court on July 29 that the coral structure known as Adam's bridge or Ramar bridge cannot be declared a national monument because there is no proof of it having been built by Ram.
Nariman had presented an affidavit in the Supreme Court on July 22 too on behalf of the Union government to justify Ram Setu's destruction. He indeed did a great injustice to Ram, god of the Hindus and ancestor to all Indians. He misquoted the Padma Purana and Kamba Ramayanam to stress that Ram had himself destroyed the Setu after his victory over Lanka.
The fact is, both the scriptures say that Ram did not come to the Lankan shores after installing Vibhishana as king but returned Ayodhya by the Pushpak Vimana along with his divine consort Sita. The Padma Purana has 55,000 verses which we searched and in none of them is a reference whatsoever to a breach caused by Sri Rama to the Setu.
In affidavit after affidavit (the first was that Ram did not exist), this government has ridiculed the faith of the land, and this attitude may not remain unanswered for long.
The question this approach raises is, why is the government seen to be in such enthusiasm to find a way out or to collect invalid data and offending propositions for just one purpose -- destroying the Ram Setu? Should that be the prime concern or motive of democratic governance that owns a responsibility to represent all people and their aspirations? Who are the people this government considers worth listening to, and who are the 'others' identified as expendables having discernibly worthless opinions?
First they said Ram did not exist and then they filed another affidavit saying Ram destroyed the Setu, so we can blast whatever remains. Why? Should a naked lust for money overpower our cultural, security and biodiversity concerns?
Two young scholars, Sarvesh Tiwari and Jayashree Saranathan, researched minutely both the scriptures quoted by Nariman and found he has misled the court and offended the sentiments of Hindus, once again, as far as this government is concerned. The Padma Purana comprises 55,000 slokas arranged into five books: the Shrishti Khand, Bhumi Khand, Swarga Khand, Uttam Khand and Paataal Khand. The last book, Paataal Khand, contains, among other subjects, a mysterious version of the story of the eight Vishnu incarnations up to Krishna. The story of Ram is the largest among these.
The full text of the Paataal Khand, fifth khand of the Padma Purana, which contains an account of the Ramayana, is available in full here. In the scriptures there is no reference whatsoever to any breach caused by Sri Rama to the Setu. Veteran Ram Setu-ologist Kalyan Raman says, "Simply put, Nariman is hiding the fact that until 1480 (when a cyclone caused breaches as recorded on an epigraph), the Setu served as a bridge between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar as recorded in the Royal Asiatic researches and Rameshwaram temple epigraphs."
Nariman also said that if something has already been destroyed, how could the Hindus worship it now? Dr Subramanian Swamy has pleaded in his petition that the tradition of veneration of Setu is unquestionable and continues even today, with over five lakh pilgrims going on ashadha amavasya day to Rama Setu to offer pitru-tarpanam -- a worship for ancestors exemplified by Sri Rama. The faithful argue, even if Nariman brings in some kind of an argument that Ram had damaged the Setu, so what? Does it cease to be a place of reverence and heritage?
Both the scriptures quoted by Fali Nariman say that once having reached the Lankan shores through the Setu, Ram directly climbed the Suvela hills and went ahead with his war plans. He did not return to the Setu or the shores of Lanka or Rameshwaram. Both Kamba Ramayanam and Padma Purana mention that Ram flew back to Ayodhya from Lanka in the Pushpak Vimana. On the way he showed Sita the places he visited including the Setu, which he praised for its greatness as a 'kshetra' (holy area) for propitiation of the people of the three worlds'.
As far as the Setu Samudram Project is concerned, it's proving to be good for nothing. There were alignments for its construction that would have the kept Ram Setu unaffected, but they were not considered. Why? There were serious objections raised by Vice Admiral R F Contractor, director general of the Indian Coast Guard. That too was ignored. Why? The objections of reasonable and independent scholars and jurists like Justice V K Krishna Aiyar and Justice K T Thomas (who opposed Ram Setu's destruction in an exclusive interview with me) were simply set aside without citing any grounds.
International tsunami expert Dr Tadepalli Sathya Narayana Murty, or Tad Murty, opined that the destruction of Ram Setu might increase the volume of catastrophe on Kerala in the event of a tsunami ("Significant tsunami energy did not propagate through the waters separating India and Sri Lanka during the December 2004 event and did not impact much the southern part of Kerala. Deepening and widening the Sethu canal, will provide a more direct route for some of the tsunami energy to travel and impact southern Kerala," he told rediff.com).
Moreover, experts cautioned that dredging Ram Setu would adversely affect the large reserves of thorium on Kerala's shores (India has one of the largest thorium reserves in the world), apart from harming the marine sanctuary and the biosphere in the water region of Ram Setu.
What is bewildering is the fact that the entire government machinery, financed principally by Hindus, is being used to collect material that would help justify the destruction of icons held in the highest esteem by Hindus themselves. Shouldn't the State be interested in doing just the opposite? Instead of invoking the memory of Ram in times like these, when terrorism has become a major problem before the nation, we tend to deride the source of our strength and valour.
Now the rethink message on Ram Setu has arrived, but not to respect Hindu sentiments, but fearing a vote-reduction and a possible use of the issue by a political adversary. If the bridge was named after Gandhi or Nehru, the secular government would have taken a different course of action.
Ram's path of winning a war
Being politically incorrect, we have become so communally compartmentalised that even on national matters we look pathetically ghettoised. No one on this planet has ever fought terrorism so valiantly and successfully as we have done. The ancestor of all Indians eliminated terror in the most practical way with human grace unparalleled in world history.
And the people remember those victories with great fondness. Though Indians born after the Constitution, a leftover of the colonialist forces, became the State's religion forgot to institutionalise their victory days like December 16 (India's victory over Pakistan in the Bangladesh war in 1971) or July 26 (victory in Kargil), as a civilisational society we have been celebrating Vijayadashmi, a day of victory over terrorism without fail since millenniums.
Ram didn't go to war at the first instance in spite of the gravest provocation. He tried to talk, urge and engage the enemy in a reasonable discussion for getting justice without bloodshed.
What were Ram's strategy and points of strength?
He stood for Dharma, ie, righteousness. Ravana was a doer of immoral acts. Hence the first great point of strength for Ram was his righteousness.
Ram had the support of common people like Vanaras and he earned their unflinching commitment.
Ravana refused to listen to the sagacious advice by his own brother Vibhishana and wife Mandodari. And obviously, he didn't care to listen to the commoners.
In Valmiki's Ramayana, Vibhishana tells Ravana: 'Dear brother! That act which cannot be accomplished by three well-known strategies (viz, conciliation, gift, and sowing dissension) is only then to be accomplished by exhibiting prowess, as stated by wise men.
'How do you wish to attack that famous Rama, who is always attentive, who has a will to conquer, who is established in strength, who has subdued his anger and who is difficult to be conquered?
'If the beloved wife of Rama is not given away of your own accord, the city of Lanka will indeed perish. All our valiant demons too will perish.'
So, Ram was attentive, had established his strength and won over his anger so his decisions would be taken after a cool thought. Once the foe was established, an unrepentant Ram won't pardon him till he was completely overpowered and annihilated.
We have been facing a terror war for more than two decades. Every time there is a barbaric attack, our prime minister and national security advisor issue a public statement accusing the Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's intelligence agency. Only recently, in the aftermath of the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the same statement by the NSA M K Narayanan accusing the ISI was splashed all over. So, the wrongdoer is being warned, advised and engaged in table talk embroidered with track-two diplomacy since the last two decades.
We are neither attentive, nor have a will to overpower the wicked and win a war.
The result is seen in the form of Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad blasts. Sometimes we blame the ISI, then the Harkat ul Jihad i Islami, or Bangladesh-based terrorist organisations, taking ample care that neither the Pakistan nor Bangladesh government is accused directly, so that 'normalisation of relations' is not adversely affected.
We tend to think the governments of both countries are sincere and saintly but those mischievous jihadi elements are beyond their control, hence we must continue strengthening our relations with Islamabad and Dhaka while condemning the jihadis working under their nose to bleed us. We don't have the guts to ask tell Islamabad and Dhaka point-blank that whatever they are doing to the Taliban on the northern front to please their masters in Washington DC, will they do the same against the anti-India operations of the Taliban too.
\Where is the will to annihilate the wicked forces, a serious and doable threat to their existence, to ensure the safety and happiness of the loyal citizens of the State? The seat of power, a symbol of Ram, remains a chronicler of hate attacks -- today here, tomorrow there, to be added in the annual report of the home ministry.
Ram was serious about punishing the unrepentant and the enemy took it seriously too. When we issue a condemnation and warning to the enemy, do they take us seriously? They laugh at us.
The State's willpower is well exhibited in enforcing communal reservations, extending ceasefire with the NSCN, defreezing Quatrocchi's bank accounts, talking to the Hurriyat, taking back Amarnath land and saving a nuclear deal at 'any' cost.
Only Ram's path can empower us to take on terror, not by deriding Ram.
Tarun Vijay is director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.