With the final verdict on Ayodhya delivered, many, including the Prime Minister, have suggested it heralds a new era for India. Underpinning this is a belief that resolving the issue was hugely important for Indians.

But exactly how much importance do Indians place on Ayodhya? Given how intertwined the Ayodhya issue is with faith, quantifying this is difficult but two different surveys provide some insights. The Lokniti program at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (Lokniti-CSDS) has tracked the mandir/masjid issue in Uttar Pradesh for two decades and suggests that the demand for the temple in Uttar Pradesh has grown in recent years. Yet outside Uttar Pradesh, the issue may have much less resonance, according to a national survey of online urban Indians, conducted by market research firm YouGov in collaboration with Mint.

Since 1996, Lokniti-CSDS has conducted a series of surveys during state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. As part of this survey, Lokniti-CSDS regularly ask Uttar Pradesh voters, both Hindu and Muslim, about their views on the Ayodhya issue.

In the first survey in 1996, just four years after the Babri demolition, both Hindus and Muslims were equally polarized: 56% of Hindus believed only a temple should be built on the disputed site while 58% of Muslims believed it should only be a mosque. But 16 years later in 2012, this polarization had waned with the equivalent figures for both Hindus and Muslims falling to 31%. Since then, as communal politics resurfaced in the state (Western UP saw the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013), support for the temple among Hindus has increased, while support for a mosque at the disputed site has decreased among Muslims.

According to political scientist Rahul Verma, the moderation of the Muslim position on Ayodhya could be driven by a belief among Muslims that the current political and legal system cannot address their concerns, which might also explain the decreasing voter turnout among Muslims in the last two Lok Sabha elections.

In Uttar Pradesh, demand for the temple among Hindus cuts across education and geography. Lokniti-CSDS data suggests that both the educated and less-educated Hindu youth in both villages and cities are in favour of the temple.

But moving away from Uttar Pradesh, views on Ayodhya become weaker, suggests data from the YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey. Conducted in January and February 2019, the online survey of 5,038 Indians spread across 180 cities solicited their views on a range of issues including Ayodhya. When asked if a Ram temple should be built on the Babri Masjid site, only 36% had a strong response (25% said yes, 11% said no) while the remaining were neutral (wanted the judiciary to decide, or wanted communal harmony at all costs). There were significant variations in responses by region. 33% respondents from northern India wanted a temple whereas in southern India, the figure was much lower at 19%.

Though the conflict around Ayodhya is as old as India itself, roughly half of India’s current population were not even alive when the Babri Masjid was destroyed in 1992, according to estimates based on census data and UN population projections. The YouGov-Mint data does suggest that demand for a temple strengthens with age - but it is not a hugely significant relationship. Around 26% of the Gen-X and above (those aged 38 and above) wanted a temple at the Babri Masjid site compared to 23% of the Gen Z (aged 18 to 21) and younger millennials (aged 22 to 28).

Support for the temple does not vary greatly across the education and class divide, the results of the survey showed. But the support for the temple does vary a great deal across political affiliations.

Cutting across age-groups, BJP’s supporters were much more likely to support a temple at the Babri Masjid site compared to the others. Among BJP’s supporters, 39% wanted a temple at that site while among those supporting other parties, only 10% said they wanted a temple at that site.

Among BJP’s youth supporters, 38% wanted a temple at the disputed site. Among youth supporting other parties, 11% wanted a temple there.

However, it is worth noting that even among BJP’s supporters, a sizeable section said this was for the court to decide. And another large section said what they wanted most was communal harmony.

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