It is fashionable for the country’s left-liberals to ignore or play down or even ridicule the faith of the majority population. On the other hand, brazen minority appeasement is considered a secularist act — remember, as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had remarked that the minorities (read Muslims) have the first right over the nation’s resources. It’s not that such mindset has brought prosperity to the minorities; it has done nothing to empower the needy among them. Besides, the symbolism is dangerous in itself because a reversal that we have seen over the past few years of the Modi-led government, to be inclusive but not appeasing, is being mischievously interpreted as being ‘anti-minority’.
And so, while instant triple talaq (divorce) is considered by Muslim clerics (and backed by a section of the left-liberals) as part of Islam, the belief by millions of Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site in Ayodhya and so a grand temple should be constructed there, is seen by the secularists as Hindu aggression. Similar is the case with the Ram Setu, which once connected Sri Lanka to India by an ocean and was supposedly built during Lord Ram’s march to that island-nation to free his abducted wife. While the bridge no longer exists in its entirety, there are still rocks that are strung together over a length of some 50 kilometres, connecting Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka.
For years, the secularists, including the Congress and its regime in the period 2004-mid 2014, have held with disdain the belief of any such bridge related to Lord Ram’s saga. First, they maintained that no such structure existed. Later they modified the position to say that the bridge-like formation which exists was not man-made but a natural creation over the millennia — like the coral reefs. Finally, they claimed that even if Ram Setu had been constructed under Lord Ram’s supervision, it was also destroyed under his instructions. Although ‘secular’ to the core, these people did not hesitate to quote a clutch of sacred texts to vindicate their stand!
The tug-of-war between the so-called secularists and proponents of Ram Setu began after a US-based National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) shuttle send across images about two decades ago of a 50 km long chain of sandbanks on which stones rested, across the Palk Strait in the Indian Ocean. The secularists had got an upper hand when NASA clarified that the images did not prove the existence (or otherwise) of a man-made bridge, referred to as Ram Setu. NASA added that the chain of sandbanks seemed to be a natural formation. But the agency had then also added that no carbon-dating had been done to settle the issue.
A few days ago, the matter was given a fresh twist and has come as a boost to the believers of Ram Setu.The well-regarded television channel, Discovery Science, aired excerpts of one of its forthcoming programmes that turn earlier presumptions on their head. The TV episode, named ‘Ancient Land Bridge’, is part of the popular series, ‘What on Earth’. Scientists from various reputed American universities shared their findings on this ancient bridge (also called Adam’s Bridge). Geologist Alan Lester and archaeologist Chelsea Rose have been quoted in the programme as asserting that the sandbars that form this 50 km long bridge-like structure could be natural formations, but the stones that sit on those sandbars have certainly not been naturally placed by the vagaries of time. Their most stunning find is the following: The sandbars are some 4,000 years old but the stones atop them are 7,000 years old. As Rose remarked, “There’s more to the story.”
The experts, who shared their findings on the television programme after having scientifically studied the material (such as dating etc), said that what was popularly referred to as Ram Setu in India was certainly man-made. If the stone dating is accurate, then it corresponds roughly to a period when the Ramayan was set. If the Adam’s Bridge was indeed man-made, then the secularists ought to quote material which establishes the identity of the maker (if not Lord Ram) — and that too 7,000 years ago.
Purely on a matter of faith, the Congress, stung by the new revelations, maintains that it had never taken a position against the belief of the majority community. This is not true. The Congress regime had told the Supreme Court back in 2007-08 that Lord Ram, the Ramayan and Ram Setu were all fictional and had no historical basis. It was only following a nationwide furore that the Government backtracked and withdrew its affidavit. Even then, its advocate Fali S Nariman claimed that if Lord Ram had constructed the bridge, he also had it destroyed for posterity. “So, where is the Setu? There is no bridge. It may be a super-man made structure, but the same super-man had destroyed it”, he had said. In his defence, he quoted a host of books, including the Padma Purana and Kamban’s Ramayan. All this may have been fine, but did not Nariman know that while there are many versions of Ramayan, the Valmiki Ramayan and Tulsidas’s Ram Charit Manas are considered the most authentic and original texts?
Interestingly, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) too had held that there was no basis to credit the bridge-like formation to Lord Ram’s period. Indeed, the ASI simply rubbished the idea as being non-historical and without evidence. One must wonder now whether the ASI had conducted any real detailed investigation on the formation, such as carbon dating before it arrived at the conclusion.
However, it was not just disdain for the majority community’s faith and beliefs that propelled the Congress-led UPA Government and its votaries to take an anti-Ram Setu stand in courts and in the public domain; there were business considerations too. The DMK, which was an important constituent of the coalition regime, was keen on pushing ahead with what came to be known as the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal project that involved the dredging of the location where the Ram Setu is located, to create a water route for vessels from across the globe. The purported idea was to enhance sea trade not just between India and Sri Lanka but also between India and the rest of the world, which was supposed to benefit India. The DMK was keen, according to some sources, because its people would have financially benefitted if the project took off. Besides, the DMK being a party of atheists had no political compulsion to cater to the wishes of the Hindu faith.
But then, economic and ecological concerns were raised by various quarters. It was pointed out that the proposed waterway would not be too useful as it would not attract ships of heavy tonnage since the waters were shallow at the Strait. Most modern merchant ships have a tonnage of 60,000 tonnes and more, whereas the ships that would be able to navigate the Sethusamudram canal could not be of above 30,000 tonnages. Besides, since the vessels would have to reduce their speed considerably while navigating the stretch, the cost-benefit ratio would not be worth the effort. To study the environmental damage that could be wreaked to sea life, the Union Government appointed a panel headed by RK Pachauri. The committee strongly disfavoured the proposed project, and the UPA regime promptly dismissed the report, clearly under the DMK’s pressure. The matter also landed at the doorsteps of the Supreme Court, and the court in April 2010, decided to stay work on the project.
With the revival of the controversy and in light of the findings revealed by Discovery Science, it’s time to not just bury the Sethusamudram project for good but also turn our attention to Ram Setu as a cultural heritage. The Brahma Sarovar at Kurukshetra in Haryana was declared an ‘ancient monument’ pursuant to orders by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1993. Cultural, spiritual and religious considerations were also involved. There is no reason why the Ram Setu should not be given a similar status.
(The writer is Visiting Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation. The views expressed here are personal).