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Ayodhya: The Temple of Underdevelopment

The hotbed of communal politics, Ayodhya has received little beyond consolations of a Ram temple. The people of the city though demand otherwise – they no longer care for a temple, all they plead for is potent development and visible avenues of employment

The pulse of communal and polarisation politics – Ayodhya today is aggrieved at being deprived of development. The locals – youth, farmers, labourers, government employees, traders and even priests – echo in unison that the city is no longer interested in debating over temple construction; from their elected government, they expect only progress in development and a commitment to fulfilling promises.

On December 6, 1992, when Babri Masjid came down, India's democratic fabric too stood ruptured. Since then, perpetrators of the demolition have remained stubborn in their demand for a temple they believe is rightfully theirs, while victims, Muslims, are sidelined and violated in a country that had promised them the comforts of home. Aside communal tension, the Babri Masjid demolition and consequent Ram Janmabhoomi movement has only amplified in intensity with political parties emphasising upon its assured construction. This term it has failed its promise of 'Mandir yahi banega'; nevertheless, the promise remains sanctimonious in the coming term, if voted to power. Most amusingly, what was a national tragedy and should actually be regretted is glorified, even at the cost of true development. It is as if Ayodhya is only relevant as long as it supplies its daily quota of religious frenzy, its people are virtually insignificant even though an essential part of our democracy.

"How can you build the Ram Mandir? How can you politicise a sub-judice matter? We want development rather than disputes over land and subsequent bloodshed," Mast Ram, a 70-year-old in-charge of Naya Ghat asserted. On the bank of Saryu River, this ghat is a celebrated centre of politics. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has visited the place seven times since taking charge – a clear sign of its relevance for the Hindu vote bank. Last year, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackrey also offered puja at this ghat.

In 2018, the state government too hastily announced the construction of a 221-metre tall Ram statue at Naya Ghat, hours before Viswa Hindu Parishad's Dharm Sabha in Ayodhya. Ram's symbolism as an unflinching man of duty has occupied a prized pedestal in Hindutva politics. In 1989, when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched his campaign from Faizabad, the district headquarters of Ayodhya, he escalated the 'Ram-Rajya' issue, which has been a 'bone of contention' for over 150 years. Gandhi's effort was to revive this political gain. However, the plan backfired and in 1989, he won only 15 of the 85 parliamentary seats, shamefully down from the 83 of 1984.

On November 6, 2018, CM Yogi Adityanath announced Ayodhya as open defecation free (ODF), but residents are miffed with the BJP government for its failure in pursuing developmental projects. Residents of the holy town claim that most houses in nearby villages are deprived of a proper functional sewage system. Shobha (40), a housewife from Grampura Husai village of Ayodhya, claims that the government has refused to provide her family access to toilets as her husband works in a government department and his corresponding 'privilege' leaves him ineligible to tap said facilities. "We do not have a toilet in our house and no proper sewage system either," she says in disgust.

There are a few who consider Adityanath to be responsible for the absence of development. A 30-year-old priest Mast Ram Purohit claims that there is only one hand pump in a 2-km radius near the Laxman Ghat area. The contractors for temple renovation toppled the hand pumps and sold them out, he alleges.

Savitri Devi (65) claims that she has been homeless for 35 years as the temple committee seized both her house and land to construct the temple. Expressing her dissatisfaction, Savitri Devi reinforces, "We would be happy if the government builds a factory instead of a temple here. At least our children will get their jobs."

Currently, the Faizabad parliamentary constituency is represented by BJP's Lallu Singh, who has been re-nominated this time too. However, voters are dissatisfied and angry. Archana, an 18-year old student said that she will vote for NOTA. "Nobody has done anything for us, we are in the same condition. No road, no sanitation, no accessible schools or colleges. The state government promised free electricity, but we pay Rs 7 per unit. I will vote for NOTA."

Iqbal Khan, a 27-year-old local businessman from Ghusiana village, said, "Lallu Singh has never visited our village. Roads are a big problem here. We have been writing applications to him, but no action has been taken." However, he also said that PM Modi should get a second term. "I follow the news regularly and believe that Modiji should come back. At least for the sake of national security," Iqbal added.

However, according to Sushila Devi, a 45-year MGNREGA worker of Sohawal Nagar Panchayat of Faizabad constituency, BJP is the only hope for development. "Modi is the symbol of development. We are very happy. We have electricity and gas cylinder, we get a gas subsidy and the government has also provided us Rs 12,000 for toilet construction."

Sunil Yadav, a farmer of Ganja village in Ayodhya, is also a beneficiary of the incumbent government's income support scheme, "I have received Rs 2,000 as first installment from the government." The 32-year-old further claims that 90 per cent of houses in his village have access to electricity, drinking water, gas connection, toilets; there are even three government schools in the village. Within a few months, the village will also boast the Rajarshi Dasharath Medical College. The Faizabad parliamentary constituency mostly hosts minorities – dominated by SC/ST and OBC communities. According to the 2011 census, Ayodhya Nagar Palika Parishad has a population of 55,890, of which 6.19 per cent are Muslims.

For the past three decades now, incumbent BJP has used the Ram Janmaboomi issue to position its electoral strength, and unsurprisingly, with the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister in 2017, the saffron party has effectively continued to utilise its hardline Hindutva agenda. Interestingly, in the same year, Ayodhya city witnessed a larger-than-life Diwali celebration, with Ram arriving in a helicopter to mark God's return to the holy town. Adityanath duly bowed to the actor unconvincingly dressed as Ram. Most importantly, on this holy occasion, he also announced the renaming of twin towns Faizabad-Ayodhya to Ayodhya.

Reportedly, after VHP's Dharm Sammelan last year, Muslims living in Ayodhya and adjacent areas have temporarily migrated, citing fear. However, Noor Jahan, a 70-year-old local resident of Ayodhya rubbished all reports and on being asked, said, "Why will we have a problem here? This is also our place. They celebrate their festival and we celebrate ours. We do not have any problem. We peacefully live here."

By mentioning 'Ram Mandir' in this year's manifesto, BJP has re-affirmed that the party is still not ready to distance itself from the issue. However, priests of the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya disagree with the saffron party and claim that devotees are being misled.

Faizabad is going to vote in the fifth phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections on May 6, 2019.

Simontini Bhattacharjee

Simontini Bhattacharjee

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