The fact that politicians, especially those from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are associating themselves with the Ramlila, a dramatic re-enactment of the epic Ramayana, may not come as a surprise.
What’s interesting about this year’s Ramlila, though, is that two Union ministers and two other top BJP leaders will be donning the grease paint for the main event in Delhi, to be staged from October 10 to 18.
Harsh Vardhan, minister for science and technology, earth sciences, environment, forests and climate change will be essaying the role of King Janak, father of Sita, consort of Lord Ram; Vijay Sampla, minister of state for social justice and empowerment, will be playing Himavat, father of the goddess Parvati, wife of the god Shiva, according to Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, organisers of the event,
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari will be seen as the vaanar prince Angad.
Vijender Gupta, another BJP politician and leader of the Opposition in the Delhi legislative assembly, will be seen in the role of the sage Rishi Attri.
To be sure, the politicians’ presence in the yearly dramatic retelling of the Ramayana will be more symbolic than substantive. All of them have chosen roles that have a limited, one-day appearance at the nine-day event.
“It is a small role for a day and when the Ramlila organising committee approached me for it, I agreed to be a part of it. Long back, I used to be a part of the Geeta Colony Ramlila,” said Harsh Vardhan, a doctor of medicine by training.
Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, which will organise the city’s main Ramlila at the Red Fort grounds in Delhi, said the panel wanted representation from every section of society in casting the play.
“And roping in politicians to be a part of our Ramlila ensures that. Not just politicians, we also have Bollywood celebrities and sportsmen as part of it, “ said Ashok Aggarwal, president of the committee, which will organise the event at Red fort Grounds in Delhi.
On whether the busy politicians will be able to take out time to rehearse for their roles, Aggarwal said: “ Since their role requires them to deliver a few lines, they have promised us to give their best shot. All the participants will be wearing the traditional attire required for the roles, which will be designed by costume designers in Mumbai who have been part of TV serials and Bollywood films.”
“I don’t think this version of the BJP believes in hiding its underlying ideological worldview. We have often thought of political parties as playing it safe, playing it towards the middle, being cautious of associating itself with religious imagery. But given BJP’s clear bent, it makes perfect sense for key faces within the party to display Hinduness in this fashion,” said Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.
Note: This story has been updated to remove the name of a governor after his office clarified that he has no plans to portray a character in the Ramlila celebrations