New Delhi: In a big push to infrastructure, marketed as the government's gift to the devotees of Lord Rama, the Modi administration has approved the laying of a new broad gauge railway line connecting Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi.

Dhanushkodi is considered the starting point of Rama Sethu ― Adam's Bridge to others ― a bridge that has both religious and touristic significance. The government has okayed the country's first vertical-lift bridge connecting Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi as well.

What’s unique about the bridge?

It will not only be a movable bridge, making it India’s first vertical-lift bridge but it will also replace the existing Pamban Bridge that now connects the two places but has weared out over the past 104 years. The Pamban Bridge is mechanically operated for ships to pass through whereas this new bridge that is okayed will be automated.

The bridge will be 2 km long and expected to be built at a cost of Rs 250 crore. It will have a 63 m horizontal stretch that will lift up wholly ― rather than rising at an angle like the Pamban did ― to allow access to the ships. The railway ministry has okayed the construction of this bridge.

A train line, too

A cyclone had destroyed the rail link between the two sites in 1964 and, since then, this is the first effort to restore the link. An audiovisual promo released by the ministry claimed that the previous governments chose to ignore it. But this new broad gauge line that has now been sanctioned by the ministry will connect Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi by train services after decades.

The 17-km line will cost about Rs 208 crore. The Dhanushkodi railway station was destroyed and abandoned after the 1964 Rameshwaram cyclone. The once popular buzzing destination turned into a ghost town due to zero connectivity. It has been a common grudge of not only the local populace, who lost an economic ecosystem, but also many Hindus who consider a Rameshwaram visit incomplete without a dip at Dhanushkodi. Railway ministry sources say this will open up the possibility of a rail connection with Sri Lanka in the near future.

Marketed as gift for Ram worshippers

The decision of the Union government was long awaited ― if only for the development of the area. But the BJP government didn’t lose the opportunity to cater to its core constituency by selling it as a mega infra push. It touted the project as its commitment to the Hindu cause where Lord Rama holds tremendous significance. In a video tweeted by railway minister Piyush Goyal, it has been touted as “Ram Bhakto ke liye Sarkar ka beshkimti tohfa” (A prized gift by the government to the worshippers of Lord Ram). 

This is bound to resurrect the debate over Ram Setu, the fate of which has to be decided by the Supreme Court. The Congress-led UPA government had irked many  when the then dispensation had, in 2007, filed an affidavit in the apex court saying that Ram was a mythical character and that the Ramayana had no historical basis, at the hearing of the case of the Sethusamudram project in the Supreme Court.

When the twin project is touted as the Modi government's invocation of Ram during the election season, the long forgotten stand of Congress government will get a fresh lease of life in the public discourse. A Congress that has since rebranded itself as a 'Hindu' party with its president Rahul Gandhi dubbed as a ‘Shiv bhakt’, flaunting his janeu (sacred thread)! But when its old stand that ‘Ram was a myth’ will once again be brought up, the Congress may find it tough to explain.

Will the BJP be able to milk it politically by digging some old graves? Too early to say. But if Piyush Goyal’s tweet is anything to go by, it’s a move in that direction.