BHOPAL: The Congress's much-touted Ram Van Gaman Rarh Yatra was grounded at the behest of the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday. The rath was confiscated at Dindori by the police in pursuance of the EC’s orders on the ground that it violated the Code of Conduct which has been in force since October 6. With assembly polls in MP slated for November 28, the commission’s action came in response to a BJP complaint that the exercise was being used as a campaign tool rather than genuine devotion to a cause.

The fortnight-long yatra was a spin-off from a lapsed BJP project to develop the pathway which Ram took en route Lanka as a tourist circuit. The Ram rath began rolling on October 2 to drum up support among Hindus in the run up to the state polls. It was flagged off at Chitrakoot where Ram lived for 12 years during his ‘vanvaas’ before proceeding to Lanka to save wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana.

A ragtag band of Congress workers led by a few saints aligned to the party were traversing the districts of Satna, Rewa, Panna, Katni, Shahdol, and Anuppur whose terrain the Maryada Puroshottam may have cut across on foot during his peregrinations. Though there is no scriptural record of the precise route he took within MP,  the key stopovers find mention in the Valmiki Ramayana. Of the 13 principal milestones between Ayodhya and Lanka, three are located within MP: Chitrakoot, Satna, and Dandakaranya.

The idea of developing Ram’s pathway as a tourist circuit was first mooted in 2004 soon after the BJP was voted to power with Uma Bharti as chief minister. But the actual plan was put in place by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime with the help of a committee of religious scholars in 2007. A report was submitted in 2011, and as much as Rs 30 crore spent, but there was nothing to show on the ground. Logistical problems are believed to have been the reason why the project was dropped. Considerable harm would have been caused to the green cover in the area.

Desperately short on issues, a section within the state Congress thought the state’s failure to build the route could yield the party some political capital. Quite apart from embarrassing the BJP, the promise to develop the passage would also help correct the party’s minority appeasing image. Especially since the route of the yatra is spread over 27-35 assembly seats peopled mainly by upper castes, Dalits, and adivasis. Eleven seats in the region are held by the Congress.

Seasoned MPCC regulars, however, conceded in private that the grounded yatra may have done the party much harm by revealing the continued disunity within. None of the major three factions was a participant in the initiative. Both MPCC chief Kamal Nath and poll campaign in charge J. Scindia kept themselves aloof. Digvijay Singh was invisible.

Churhat MLA Ajay Singh ‘Rahul’ (son of the late Arjun Singh) in whose region the Ram route lies had earned the party’s displeasure after his supporters roughed up AICC representative Deepak Bawaria during a press conference at Rewa in July. This after Bawaria told reporters that the choice of CM in case the Congress was voted to power was confined to Kamal Nath and J. Scindia. Angry backers of Ajay Singh had barged in to protest why their leader was not among the probable.