It’s hard to separate Ayodhya from the land dispute and temple construction, and residents are convinced mediation and consensus is the only way forward. (Photo: AFP)
It’s hard to separate Ayodhya from the land dispute and temple construction, and residents are convinced mediation and consensus is the only way forward. (Photo: AFP)

Elections 2019: Enough said about temple, say Ayodhya residents

  • Ayodhya falls within the Parliamentary constituency of Faizabad
  • A few days before the dates for the general elections were announced, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of mediation to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute

AYODHYA/FAIZABAD : Most voters in Ayodhya, the holy town that is often in the news and which falls in the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency of Uttar Pradesh, feel that the construction of a Ram Mandir (temple) at the disputed site should not be used for political gains during elections. Instead, they want to talk about infrastructure development, which they say have been missing.

In national debates, politicians may take uncompromising stands on the issue but those who live in the town and around the disputed site have no doubt that consensus through talks is the only way forward to ensure peace between the majority and the minority communities. Ayodhya falls within the Parliamentary constituency of Faizabad.

Most voters in Ayodhya, the holy town that is often in the news and which falls in the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency of Uttar Pradesh, feel that the construction of a Ram Mandir (temple) at the disputed site should not be used for political gains during elections. Instead, they want to talk about infrastructure development, which they say have been missing.

In national debates, politicians may take uncompromising stands on the issue but those who live in the town and around the disputed site have no doubt that consensus through talks is the only way forward to ensure peace between the majority and the minority communities. Ayodhya falls within the Parliamentary constituency of Faizabad.

Though they don’t want the temple to be a conversation point for votes and elections, residents who want a temple built believe the process of construction will be completed only if the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power at the centre and Narendra Modi is the prime minister. Residents of the temple town also feel that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) played a responsible role and has wisely chosen not to interfere in the legal case, leaving it to the discretion of the Supreme Court.

Two months ago, a few days before the dates for the general elections were announced, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of mediation to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute. Even as the three-member panel continues to hold meetings in Faizabad, voters in Ayodhya are unanimous that consensus through mediation is the only way forward.

“Confrontation will bring no results, or benefits. We hope there will be some resolution after the panel’s meetings are completed. The Ram Mandir is not an election issue because it is a matter of faith. The BJP government has taken a reasonable stand not interfering in legal matters. In any case, no other party has made a commitment on building a Ram Mandir," said Bipin Kumar Dubey, a 34-year-old general store owner in Ayodhya.

On 6 December 1992, right-wing Hindu activists owing allegiance to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the BJP and other organizations demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on a site regarded as the birthplace of Hindu god Ram. Prior to this, the BJP had never formed a government at the centre and the first time it did so was four years later under former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 for 13 days. The BJP returned to power in 1998 and in 1999 but lost the general elections in 2004.

Apart from voters, the key stakeholders in Ayodhya too are confident that the mediation panel, which is chaired by Supreme Court Justice (retd.) F.M.I. Kalifulla, is the best solution. “The initiative is good. The courts can never solve this issue. Hindus say it is linked to the issue of faith, Muslims too claim the same. So how will this get resolved? No one wants to take a step back. I want this issue to be resolved," said Haji Mehboob, a Muslim litigant in the case.

“We respect what the Supreme Court has said and it should be followed. A massive Ram Mandir should be built under the Modi government. Now, he has to take a decision and begin temple construction with the court’s guidance," said Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.

To the litigants, the issue is top of the mind but the regular citizens and even politicians, it has slipped down the list. More than 25 years after the demolition, the construction of the temple is no longer the central narrative of BJP, not even in Uttar Pradesh which accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats.

None of BJP’s top leaders, including Modi, have made any mention about the temple in public meetings ever since elections were announced on 10 March. While Modi held a public meeting in Gosaiganj near Ayodhya on Wednesday, his larger pitch was development. Like in 2014, in this election too, the BJP has reiterated its commitment in its national manifesto to ‘explore all possibilities’ within the Constitution to expedite the temple construction but it’s not talked about.

“Naturally, the city is inseparable from the issue of the land dispute but no one wants clashes. For us here, development is what concerns us. We want better roads, infrastructure and access to services, and that is the crucial issue in this election," said Ismail Mohammad, who owns a bangle shop in Ayodhya. “We’re still lagging behind on development."

This time around, Faizabad will see a three-cornered contest with BJP’s sitting MP Lallu Singh taking on veteran Congressman and former Faizabad MP Nirmal Khatri and Samajwadi Party’s Anand Sen. Since 1999, BJP has won this seat twice, with Khatri winning in 2009 and BSP in 2004. In 2014, BJP won the seat with a margin of just 27.65%, with the SP candidate coming in second. In 2009 too, SP was in second place coming even closer to Congress’ Khatri with a margin of just 7%

“Elections are for the entire country and not just for Ayodhya. Of course, I’m upset that the temple construction has not progressed, but I believe the government and Modi have their reasons for not doing it. In Ayodhya, everything else has happened other than the temple construction," said Mewa Lal, a 40-year-old who owns a shop selling religious items.

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