Friday, September 14, 2007
An epic in the unmaking
Govt chants Ram, Ram – Times of India
UPA govt rediscovers lord Ram- DNA
U-turn in the name of lord- Hindustan Times
All good lead headlines from three leading newspapers in Mumbai on Friday (September 14, 2007). Forgive me, for once, sub editors, I give the credit to the government, which tried to put its foot down on the Sethusamudram conflict, but found its foot firmly in its mouth instead.
What, pray, was the need for the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to present as an affidavit, the scientifically untested hypothesis that the bridge-like formation between Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu and Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka is a natural formation? Worse, why did the government try to preside over the authenticity of Ramayana and its protagonist Ram? Mythology is not history, we all know, and Sonia Gandhi is a master of neither. We also know that Lal Krishna Advani is not Hanuman, though he tries to sound more knowledgable than the mythological monkey god, on matters of the Palk Straits.
I would love to see a scientific attempt to validate — or invalidate — the existence of Ram (and that has got nothing to do with my second name). The same with other mythological/ religious figures. But the arguments over the need and feasibility of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) is just not the lab for that. Let us be clear, the debate is whether SSCP will do good or bad. Or neither, at a cost of more than Rs 2,400 crore. If it does good, can the canal be dug without disturbing what was called the ‘Ramar Sethu’ till 1804 when the first surveyor general of East India Company James Rennell called it the Adam’s Bridge?
The idea behind the canal is to cut down the sailing time of ships — that now circumvent Sri Lanka — between the east and west coasts of India by more than 30 hours and 450 km. It will also help us develop a string of ports. That makes sense. Till we consider that the original plan was made 147 years ago, by AD Taylor of the Indian Marines. Ships have changed and so have navigational methods. Since I am not an expert on this, I will but share some points raised by experts during my interviews with them for scores of stories on the vexed issue.
KRA Narasaiah, former chief mechanical engineer, Vizag Port and a World Bank consultant for port construction: “The project is no longer economically feasible. Modern ships are of more than 100,000 dwt (dead weight tonne) capacity, while the proposed canal can let only ships of 30,000 dwt to pass through.”
KS Ramakrishnan, former deputy chairperson, Chennai Port Trust: “A 36,000-tonne coal ship calling at Chennai port through a 7-km channel has to pay approximately Rs 21.75 a tonne, or a total of Rs 7.83 lakhs, as pilotage charges averaging Rs 1.11 lakh per km. The same ship will have to pay more than Rs 60 lakh for passing through the SSCP. The saving of sailing time around Sri Lanka does not justify this cost.”
Whenever I have spoken to shipping minister TR Baalu and former chairman of SSCP NK Raghupathi (he was working too hard that Baalu had to ask him to go on leave), there has been no counter to the points raised by Narasaiah and Ramakrishnan. Raghupathi always had the habit of saying “I will get back to you” (which he never did), while the minister’s refrain has been “the project has the clearance of the concerned agencies and ministries.”
Now, even if the canal is financially viable and useful, is it imperative that the bridge be damaged? Whether it was built by Ram’s ‘vanarsena’ or the toiling men and women of the times; or it was a natural formation, should such a wonderful reef of corals and stones dating back to tens of thousands of years and guarding one of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world (the Gulf of Mannar is designated as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO) be damaged?
According to Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court whom I interviewed soon after the ASI’s submission on Wednesday, the probable route of the canal was studied 16 times since 1860 and 15 of them suggested that the bridge should not be touched. By experience, I take Swamy’s words with a generous pinch of salt, but I am yet to hear anything from Baalu & Co against this argument.
I am waiting for the conflict to be resolved. Not that I am thrilled at the prospect of having a canal — usable or not — in my state’s backyard. Just that we can get to the more interesting point: Was the bridge man-made or natural? ASI, mind you, has not based its submission on any scientific data. Micropaleantological studies, among others, can tell us the truth. A senior scientist friend claims to have done that, but the government has not taken it on record. I promise to get back with more of a scientific argument, once curtains come down on the present scene of the political drama. And, if the political players push me enough, a bit on a secret ‘ledger’ of payments at the SSCP site.
Infuriated by Sethusamudram project being put on hold, Karunanidhi blames communal forces and Srilanka and asks where did this Raman study engineering
By Walter Jayawardhana
Furious over the Sethu Samudram project being put on hold by the New Delhi government over the strong Hindu religious sentiments mainly raised by the opposition Bharathiya Janatha Party Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi strongly came down on what he called communal forces and even the neighboring Sri Lanka which has raised environment concerns for stalling the project.“Who is this Raman (as Lord Ram is referred to in Tamil)? In which engineering college did he study and become a civil engineer? When did he build this so-called bridge? Is there any evidence for this?” an apparently infuriated Karunanidhi asked at a function in Erode in Saturday night. The leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagam (DMK) rejects any belief in the myriad of Hindu gods as of Aryan and non Tamil origin and ridicules them in his party ideology.Indicating the change of mind attitude in new Delhi is driving the UPA government into a new crisis , Karunanidhi said ,“The withdrawal of the affidavits does not mean that the project is being withdrawn.” The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister told reporters at Yercaud near Salem. “If it amounts to the project itself being shelved, then the DMK, which adheres to scientific, rational and progressive ideals, will not accept it.” The affidavits Karunanidhi was referring to are the ones produced in courts by the Arcaeological Survey of India which the Hindus said hurt their religious sentiments. They expressed controversial ideas on the existence of Lord Ram , the main character in the Hindu epic Ramayana who is called Raman in Tamil. Karunanidhi came down hard on the Ramayana story about Rama Sethu or the Adams Bridge between India and Sri Lanka as “myth”.Speaking to reporters about the new differences arisen after the New Delhi governments change of mind following vociferous demonstrations that denounced Sonia Gandhi as a Christian in which her effigies were burnt Karunanidhi said , : “The conflict is between us and communal elements. It is between us and dominant forces that are using superstitions of the people to stall the project and achieve their ends. It is not a conflict between us and the Union Government. Our stand is that the Centre should not succumb to these communal elements.”Demonstrating fury and using strong words an emotive Karunanidhi said in Erode, ““The latest attempt to stall the Sethusamudram project is by a group of jackals, conspirators and dangerous elements. Their objective is to subvert a major project that would usher in development in the southern parts of our state.” In a resolution which he read out at the function, Karunanidhi warned the Government against giving up the project in the name of Ram Sethu. The Ramayana, he said, was only “a piece of fiction that allegorically represented the conflict between Aryans and Dravidians”. (Tamil is a Dravidian language) .The affidavits produced in the courts calling the Ramayanaya a myth has in fact has put the political future of the Minister of Cultural Affairs of the New Delhi government Ambika Soni in jeopardy. Some cabinet members of the Man Mohan government has demanded him to resign over the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by the department under him that said that there was no proof that the event described in the Ramayana ever took place or the characters in the epic existed.
The protests sprang up all over India mostly targeting the Italian born Sonia Gandhi , a strong supporter of the project. “How would a Christian know about the Hindu religion?” cried protesters led by former Test player Navjyot Singh Siddhu, a Hindu nationalist MP. He added, “Does (god) Ram need a court affidavit to be recognized?”Vishva Hindu Parishad and its South Indian counterpart , Hindu Munnani are protesting the project as “the deliberate design to destroy the most ancient relic of Hindu history.”
L.K.Advani, a senior leader of Bharatiya Janata Party has called the government’s position ‘ an insult to millions of Hindus all over the world,”LankaWeb Ref
(Lord Rama, the most famous incarnation of God, is one of the most commonly adored gods of Hindus and is known as an ideal man and hero of the epic Ramayana.He is always holding a bow and arrow indicating his readiness to destroy evils. He is also called “Shri Rama”. More commonly he is pictured in a family style, (Ram Parivar) with his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and devotee Hanuman who is sitting near Lord Rama’s feet. Indeed, He was the eternal Lord Sri Vishnu, and had advented Himself in the world of men on behalf of the Devas, who desired the slaying of Ravana.” )http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items07/180907-1.html