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Uttar Pradesh government has begun groundwork for construction of a Ram statue at Ayodhya, expected to be announced by chief minister Yogi Adityanath during his pre-Diwali visit to the town, say media reports.

Adityanath, addressing a meeting in Gorakhpur on October 31, had said he will go with good news to Ayodhya for Diwali.

The first lady of South Korea Kim Jung-sook will also visit India from November 4-7 during which she will be at Ayodhya as chief guest for the Deepotsav event on November 6.

“Tender for the architect and design consultant was floated and shortlisted firms gave a presentation to the chief minister. Some changes were suggested and a fresh presentation will be given after which we shall move for selection of the construction agency,” said a senior official of the UP Rajkiya Nirman Nigam (UPRNN), reported The Hindustan Times (HT). The date for next presentation by the shortlisted firms is yet to be announced.

The statue will be 151 metres tall and the platform will be 50 metres, making the overall height of the structure 201 metres – taller than the 182 m Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity in Gujarat, according to the official quoted by HT.

The UPRNN had floated a tender for the project ‘Saryu River front development and construction of Shri Ram Statue at Ayodhya UP’ at a cost of Rs 775 crore approximately, reported HT. The Statue of Unity cost Rs 2989 crore.

After technical evaluation of the bids for for the architecture and designing work, five firms from Kochi, Greater Noida, and Lucknow were reportedly shortlisted for the work.

With general elections slated next year and Ram temple issue remaining at the core of BJP politics to neutralise a host of issues eating away at its popularity – such as Rafale deal, the CBI imbroglio, rising prices, the economic slowdown, the farmers’ agitation – the statue project is likely to take shape soon.

Deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya Saturday has refused to commit on a date for Ram temple construction in Ayodhya, saying the matter was being heard by court, but instead, made a case for a Ram statue in the town.

“The issue is sub-judice. Since the matter is in court, we won’t be able to set a date. But yes, who can stop us from coming up with a grand statue of the Lord in Ayodhya? Who can stop us from developing the temple town?” Maurya told HT.

Saints in Ayodhya have been demanding a statue of Lord Ram similar to that of the recently-inaugurated statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first home minister of free India.

Mahant Paramhans Das of Tapasvi Chavni has said if a statue of Lord Ram similar to that of Sardar Patel is installed in Ayodhya, it will give boost to tourism and development

Adityanath had recently visited the Sardar Patel statue, which at 182 metres, is the world’s tallest, and was accompanied by some UPRNN officials.

Mahant Satyendra Das, the head priest of the makeshift temple at the disputed site, is however opposed to the Ram statue project.

“Lord Ram’s place is in a temple and not in the open,” Das was quoted as saying in media reports.  Das has been performing puja of Ram Lalla (the child Ram) at the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya for over 25 years.

“The Lord’s statue in the open is not acceptable. Who is going to take care of the statue and perform daily puja of the deity?” asked Satyendra Das, who is a former Sanskrit lecturer.

Explaining his point, he said: “Lord Ram’s statue is not a political statue. It is not like any other statue of a politician installed across the country. You very well know the condition of the statues of politicians. No one takes care of them. Nobody wants Lord Ram’s statue to meet the same fate.”

If the government goes ahead with its proposal to install the statue of Lord Ram, then the head priest has some suggestions.

“We do not need the tallest statue of Lord Ram. Its height must be such that it can be easily maintained and it must also have a proper canopy,” he suggested.

The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas has also demanded proper maintenance of the proposed statue of Lord Ram.

“Lord Ram’s statue is not just any other statue. It cannot be installed and forgotten. The government has to ensure its proper maintenance,” said Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, head of the Nyas, which has spearheaded the Ram Mandir movement across the country.

The chorus for a grand statue of Lord Ram began only after the Supreme Court deferred the hearing on the Ayodhya dispute until January 2019. The apex court’s move irked seers and Hindu organisations such as RSS and VHP who were expecting the verdict in the next few months. The top court’s deferment surprised Hindu outfits who then stepped up the pressure on the government to bring a law to construct Ram temple in Ayodhya.

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