Setusamudram Project Another Ayodhya in the Making

The Central Government’s filing of affidavit on the Setusamudram Project on September 10-11, 2007 provided enough ammunition for the BJP and its associates, who had been sitting idle without any mass appeal issue since 2004.

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The Central Government’s filing of affidavit on the Setusamudram Project on September 10-11, 2007 provided enough ammunition for the BJP and its associates, who had been sitting idle without any mass appeal issue since 2004. The BJP thought it fit to seize the opportunity and turn the issue into an emotional one by relating it directly to Rama in the same manner as they had done in case of the Babri Mosque issue. In fact, it is the Central government, which, knowingly or unknowingly, gave this opportunity to them by first filing the said affidavit and then taking it back hurriedly. It seems that the Congress is working on the same lines as it had done during the Ayodhya issue, giving direct benefit to the Sangh Parivar. Setusamudram Ship Channel Project is almost 150-year old. It was conceived by an Englishman, Commander A.D. Tailor in 1860. He had placed a project of constructing the channel by removing rocks. After independence, in 1955, then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru constituted a committee, which gave its opinion in favour of the construction of the channel. In 1983 and 1996, two more committees were formed to look into the matter and finally in 2002, NDA government accorded its approval to the “project” by allocating 5 crore rupees in the budget. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the project on October 25, 2005. Four ministers of the erstwhile NDA government, namely Arun Jaitley, V.P. Goyal, S. Tharun Karasar and Shatrughan Sinha took active interest in the project. It is yet to be analysed why deliberations and consultations had been going on to construct the channel for the last 147 years? In fact, the channel will minimise the distance by nearly 780 kms for sailing ships and the time involved will also come down by 30 to 45 hours. India’s shores are almost 7517 kms and there are 12 large and 185 small shipyards. But the main hurdle before the Indian shipping is that the ships have to go round Sri Lanka before reaching eastern ports from western ones. It is not only for the commercial ships but even the ships of Indian Navy and coastguards have to adopt this circuitous route to reach eastern side from the western side. Every ship has to sail 425 nautical miles (780 kms) more, which involves wastage of money and time. One should also have a knowledge of Setusamudram/Adam Bridge. A stretch, known as Pak Street between Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu, covers the area up to Bay of Bengal. It derives its name from the Governor of Madras Presidency Robert Pak. A series of rocks exists in this area covering almost 30 kms when seen from above or photographed. It gives an impression of a broken bridge. According to Christians of Sri Lanka, Adam was thrown in India and Hawwa (Eve) in Sri Lanka after their expulsion from the Paradise. Adam reached Sri Lanka by crossing this bridge to meet Hawwa. Some Muslim scholars have also opined in the same manner. But there is no proof of its credibility. Likewise, the Hindus believe that when Ravana kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama, and detained her in Sri Lanka. It was Hanuman who constructed the bridge with the help of monkeys, so that the army of Rama might cross and attack Sri Lanka. But there is no scientific or historical support to this view. In fact, Geographists and Archaeologists opine that the stone formation is a natural phenomenon and it is only a coincidence that it stretches in a sequence up to 30 kms. During East India Company’s rule and also under British rule several efforts were made to minimise the distance between western ports and eastern ones. In 1860 Townspeed, in 1882 Parliamentary Committee, in 1863 William, in 1871 Robertson, in 1872 Johncode, in 1884 South Indian Railway Engineers and in 1923 Robertson Brastoo Committees were constituted but due to reasons best known to the erstwhile rulers, the project could not take off and now it has become a headache for the Manmohan Singh government. Presently it has provided sufficient grounds for the BJP to mobilise Hindu masses just before assembly elections in the Gujarat. It will be appropriate to return to political side of Setusamudram after discussing historical and economic aspects. UPA government has erred already. At the time of filing the affidavit, it should have been careful as the issue is very sensitive. Paragraph 20 of the affidavit should not have discussed about existence of Rama at all. The government should have confined itself to the issue by saying that it has no proof about the 30 km long stretch under the sea to be Setusamudram or Adam’s bridge. Secondly, they must have pointed out that construction of the channel is important on economic and strategic count. Indian Navy and Coast Guards will have better opportunities, if the channel is constructed and put to naval use. The government should have desisted from opinion on the existence of Rama because in religious beliefs many points cannot be backed up by logic, history or scientific analysis. Congress has done such a blunder, knowingly or unknowingly, that is a matter of further observation. But in past, the Congress blundered on sensitive issues. The best example of such blunders is Babri Masjid issue. Now, the Congress is declaring that the project was sanctioned during NDA regime and the then Tamilnadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had also accorded approval. The UPA government is only executing their plans. But as the Congressmen lack will and resources to present their good deeds before masses, this theory rather truth is falling flat on the ground. On the other hand, it has provided a good opportunity for Sangh Parivar to exploit religious sentiments of the majority community. If we take into account economic aspects, we find that the total cost of the construction of two channels comes to about Rs. 2427 crore. When these channels are ready and open for naval use, the ships will be able to sail 780 km less and it will thus increase traffic on the way. Even before the completion of the project, the Government of India will earn rupees 1000 crore yearly and the profit will further go up to Rs. 5000 crore in the coming 10-15 years. The channels will serve India’s interest just like the Suez Canal is serving Egypt’s. Its construction will be fruitful to India in many ways. In short, it can be concluded that the Setusamudram Project is in the national interest. It is not a new concept because for the last 147 years it has been in the thinking line of various regimes. The British tried it, Jawaharlal Nehru made efforts in that direction, Indira Gandhi also paid attention to it but it got sanction during the Vajpayee regime. It means it has consent and approval of 26 national and regional political parties. Subramaniyam Swami, who filed the petition in the Supreme Court, had also extended his support to it. It is in national interest; hence Manmohan Singh Government not only approved it but went on to execute it in October, 2005. Though the project has to be completed in 2008 but the Apex Court has stayed it for the time being. Setusamudram Project is a living example of dirty politics of Indian political establishment. The political parties that approved it in the beginning are opposing it now. Almost two thirds work on the project has been completed and the target was to complete it in 2008 but now it has received a setback. As the Sangh Parivar is expected to reap rich harvest by this ongoing controversy, it may linger on till the coming Lok Sabha elections. The irony is that the Sangh Parivar and the BJP are giving it communal colour too by taking reference of Muslims and Christians. BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad has unnecessarily mentioned the sacred names of Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Isa (Jesus) – peace and blessings of Allah be with them. Pravin Togadia mentioned even the name of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb for making Muslims a party though there is no conflict between Hindus and Muslims on this count. In fact, the conflict of opinion and interest lies between L.K. Advani and Chief Minister of Tamilnadu M. Karunanidhi. BJP Member of Parliament, Vedanti made a statement in Parliament to cut off the head and tongue of Karunanidhi (though he later on retracted his statement because there was danger of his being disqualified from membership of Parliament). Muslims neither oppose to the construction of the channels nor do they favour it. Political parties should decide their future course of action keeping in view national interest and not their narrow political agenda. India is a democratic nation and democracy has certain obligations. Hence, it is better for them and the nation as well to have constructive approach. All parties involved in the controversy should give preference to the prosperity and security of country over all other considerations.