Amidst the palpable threat of novel coronavirus sweeping across the country, PM Modi, on March 23, 2020, announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to blunt the insidious spread of coronavirus. With India’s vast population penned in their respective houses, the National Broadcaster Prasar Bharati decided to retelecast the massively popular Indian epics-Ramayana and Mahabharat on Doordarshan channels on popular demand.
The popularity of the show Ramayana can be gauged by the fact that as soon as the first episode of Ramayana went live, Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana on Doordarshan became the top search on Google in India with several people presumably either trying to find out what time the series would begin or trying to find an online link to watch the show. Indians who are locked up inside their homes due to the looming threat of coronavirus welcomed with open arms the retelecast of the show and once again hooked up to their television to relive their fond memories of the 1980s.
However, this did not sit well with some of the Congress leaders who questioned the government’s priorities while fighting a pandemic. Soon after the announcement that the two epic show will return to the Indian television, Jothimani, who is a close aide of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, criticised the government for having misplaced priorities. “Millions of daily wage labourers, platform dwellers, farmers, differently-abled, single women and other poor marginalised communities are struggling to cope up with the lockdown. Heartbreaking stories of children starving. Sad to see the Modi govt priority”, the Congress leader said on Friday.
Millions of daily wage labourers, platform dwellers, farmers ,differently Abled,single women and other poor marginalised communities are struggling to cope up with the lock down. Heart breaking stories of children starving . Sad to see the Modi Govt priority. https://t.co/W0FTpZt3OM— Jothimani (@jothims) March 27, 2020
In 2007, Congress had also raised doubts over the existence of Lord Ram. However, there were days when even the Congress party had resorted to seeking votes in the name of Lord Ram. In the 1980s, the Congress party did not shy away from exploiting the huge popularity of Ramayana and its stars among the Indians. In an interview in 1988, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad stated that they had enlisted TV actor Arun Govil, popular for playing the character of Lord Ram in the serial, in the Allahabad by-polls elections against VP Singh, who had just resigned from the Congress party over the government’s reluctance to investigate alleged kickbacks in defence contracts such as Bofors deal.
“We were trying to get Arun Govil on our side because VP Singh was trying to get him on his side. However, only after VP Singh said that Arun is not Ram but Raavan, did Govil agree to campaign for the Congress party to oppose this statement by VP Singh,” Azad said.
In the above interview, Azad was seen tacitly admitting that the Congress party used the Ramayana actor not in his capacity as a TV celebrity but as an actor playing out his role of ‘Lord Ram’ to dissuade people from voting for VP Singh. Govil, projecting himself as a pious Hindu, donned saffron robes on the hustings which drew large crowds. While canvassing for Congress, the Ramayana star stated, ″Take the name of the Lord and vote for the Congress.″
Nevertheless, Congress shenanigans of cashing in on Arun Govil’s popularity as Lord Ram did not yield them the desired result as VP Singh emerged victorious in the by-poll elections. Actor Amitabh Bachchan was initially finalised as the Congress candidate to fight against Singh. However, after a groundswell of opposition against his candidature within his party, Amitabh was dropped at the last minute. Suni Shashtri was latter fielded against VP Singh from the Congress but Singh defeated him with a margin of over 1.10 lakh votes. Besides Allahabad, the Congress party received a crushing blow in the two assembly by-elections – Tanda (Faizabad) and Chhaprauli (Meerut).