In an apparent move to avoid stoking a fresh controversy as the Bharatiya Janata Party comes to terms with a bitter separation from the Janata Dal-United, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has declined an invitation to visit Ayodhya, his office said on Tuesday.
The chief minister's Office, in a press statement, clarified that Modi "politely declined" the invitation to attend the 'Amrit Mahotsava' being celebrated on the 75th birthday of president of Ram Janma Bhumi Nyas Trust mahant Nritya Gopal Das.
"On June 13 Nritya Gopal Das had made a phone call to the chief minister and invited him to attend his Amrit Mahotsav being organised during June 19 to 22, 2013. But, he had politely informed him that because of his pre-decided engagements it would be difficult for him to remain present," the statement said.
Modi, while expressing his inability to attend the function, thanked the mahant for the invitation and wish for the success of the function, it said.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Uttar Pradesh spokesman Sharad Sharma had on Monday said that Modi was expected to visit Ayodhya on Wednesday or Friday and frontline leaders of the Hindutva brigade like Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia, Gorakhpur MP Yogi Aditya Nath and Yoga Guru Ramdev would also reach the temple town to welcome him.
The move was seen as politically significant as the BJP, mindful of the concerns of its allies, had avoided raking up the contentious Ram temple issue over the last several years.
With the JD-U exiting from the National Democratic Alliance, the visit by Modi, BJP's election campaign committee chief, was viewed as an attempt by the Gujarat leader to make it clear that he would not fight shy of blending his development agenda with pro-Hindutva politics in the assembly elections to states due later this year and next year's Lok Sabha polls.
With the JD-U jumping off the NDA bandwagon, the alliance is left only with the Shiv Sena, a hardline Hindutva outfit with its influence limited to Maharashtra, and Punjab-centric Shiromani Akali Dal.