Why BJP might lose hold in Ayodhya?
Ayodhya went to polls on February 27.
Snehal Mutha | Ayodhya | Broken unplastered houses, splintered ceilings of the temple, open drainages, chafed roads, putrid heaps of garbage all around town. This was the picture of Ayodhya, a place that attracted global attention. It is situated on the Ghaghara River just east of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya, known today, came into existence in the 5th Century, having a reputation of being one of the most pre-eminent cities of ancient India. Over the years, it lost its pace of development and the essence of being one of the progressive towns during the second urbanisation phase. Today people here have been waiting years for development. Communal riots, Babri Masjid Demolition Movement too added to the delay in development. Hindu-Muslims living in Ayodhya did not much care about Mandir-Masjid. It was Hindutva elements and political propaganda that changed dynamics in Ayodhya, in return people lost their peace and harmony. However, given the rich history of 2,000 years and two years of Ram Mandir Verdict, the development is still underway.
“Ek Rupiya mein Chavani Bhar Vikas Samajh Nahi Aya Hai,” (There is barely any development) said Vipul, a Panipuri seller, resident of Ayodhya for past 10 years. His work has made him familiar with all the roads of Ayodhya. He pointed out that the roads are in poor condition, for example, in Nayi Chavani, it is hard to get through the road via a moped (vehicle), or pass by with the thela (cart). Everywhere, the roads are shoved and left unattended. Balu Ghat roads are also in similar conditions.
The government has been planning street rejuvenation and other big projects in Ayodhya since 2018. Ayodhya development plan includes an international airport, construction of bridges, revamping of roads and 84 Kosi Parikrama Marg. The projects are due and in the 'work in progress stage'. A journalist from local Newspaper Swatantra Prabhat Media said, “The main Ayodhya city lies in the radius of 15 Km, why still there is no development? Even with the myriad of money coming in. The government has sanctioned projects worth Rs 3,500 crores. Ministers, common people and spiritual leaders everyone have contributed. Still, there is no development except the roads and lights." According to media reports, more than Rs 5,000 crores were accumulated from crowdfunding.
Why are the Pandits of Ayodhya disappointed?
The locals are not happy with the way development decisions are made; they have mixed feelings towards the present government. "Today the world knows our Ayodhya, but we are still back there. No quality education facilities, poor infrastructure, irregular income sources and rising inflation. Nothing has changed. Perhaps, when the construction of the temple is completed things might get better for us," said Bahuti Prasad, a resident of Ayodhya. The Mahants and pandits of respective temples are also disappointed. Mahant of Saryu Temple Suma Pathak feels deep utsav is just a showoff. The grandeur of Ram Mandir has taken away the significance of other temples.
The government is said to be least bothered about these ancient temples. Another Pandit on condition of anonymity said, "Somewhere under the name of development we are going to lose the authenticity of the temple. The road widening process is going to take down its huge gates, which have historic references."
Ayodhya has 6,000 temples. Pandis run over 1,000 of them. "Pandits are insecure as there is a possibility of devotees/ tourists not visiting other temples. Eventually, it will take a toll on their livelihood. Modiji needs to understand these issues," adds Nihal, a local vendor outside the temple.
What is bothering Ayodhya's business circle?
Pandits are not the only ones facing problems, few in the business circle are also disappointed about the government’s functioning. Outside the premises of Hanuman Gadi, Kanak Mehal, Raj Gadi, there are shops on both sides of the lane doing business for decades. The proposed road passing between the shops is supposed to widen 24 metres broad, which would destroy over 4,000 shops, affecting around 12,000 people. The shops are owned by several temple trusts; shopkeepers don’t have ownership of the land. However, over the years it has become their livelihood and also home for a few shopkeeper families. The proposal to widen the road is not in favour of shopkeepers. They have been agitating against the government for the past two years. Shopkeepers protested outside the district magistrate’s office demanding a suitable solution.
A shopkeeper in the premises of Hanuman Gadi said, “Majority of shopkeepers are angry with BJP as the road widening is likely to take up the front part of their shops. 40 percent of vyaparis (traders) would not go for BJP this time."
The president of Vyapari Mandal Kumar Kaushal said, “With road widening and lack of job opportunities, the people doing business are worried about their future. A huge Ram Mandir is constructed but none of the employees are natives, instead, the labour force came from outside.”
He further says, “Berozgari, Mehangayi toh control nahi kar paye, ab yeh humara khana bhi band karwa denge.” (They could not control unemployment, inflation. Now they are trying to shut down our livelihood as well.)
Political Scenario of Faizabad (Ayodhya)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the Ayodhya Assembly constituency in 2017. In fact, BJP won all five seats of Faizabad. Ved Prakash Gupta won the seat defeating Samajwadi Party (SP)’s Tej Narayan Pandey, also known as Pawan Pandey, with a margin of 50,440 votes. For the 2022 UP elections BJP has once again fielded incumbent MLA Ved Prakash Gupta on the Ayodhya assembly seat. Likewise, SP has fielded Pawan Pandey.
Speaking to people from different walks of life, Pawan Pandey seems to be leading in the constituency. The development brought during his tenure had helped people fight the Coronavirus pandemic. The natives have many reservations against the BJP candidate as well as the promises the party failed to deliver. BSP’s Ravi Maurya, Congress’s Reeta Maurya and AAP’s Shubham Srivastava will also be contesting from the same seat.
Few people are also infuriated due to land-related issues. A resident on condition of anonymity said, “Many controversial land dealings took place. The land that was purchased for lakhs of rupees was further sold to a trust for 2 crores and above, in which BJP leaders and other officials are involved.”
According to an Indian Express report, local politicians such as Indra Pratap Tiwari (Khabbu Tiwari), MLA from Gosaiganj, Ved Prakash Gupta, MLA (Ayodhya) and Rishikesh Upadhyay, Mayor of Ayodhya were involved in these controversial land dealings. Ved Prakash Gupta's involvement has further dented his image. He stays in the Faizabad district, 8 km away from Ayodhya. Many complain of him never coming down to Ayodhya to address people's issues.
Despite the religious angle to the Ayodhya seat, BJP's position seems shrunk. The popularity of Pawan Pandey is constantly increasing. SP brought roads, medical college, Pandeyji initiated coverage of sewage lines, otherwise, the sanitary conditions of the town would have been more pathetic. In case Yogi Adiyanath had contested the seat, people would have voted in his favour. They surveyed well in advance, but no idea what got into them," claims Manjeet Pandey, a resident of Ayodhya.
Another important aspect is the Brahman versus Thakur narrative. In Ayodhya, there are over 70,000 Brahmans, 45,000 OBC, 42,000 Muslims, 55,000 Guptas and 15,000 Thakurs. Brahmans are agitated by the BJP government, first, for being overlooked and then, due to the crackdown of CM Yogi Adiyanath on them. However, the overall picture portrays Brahmans are in the mood to change the MLA, voting in favour of SP.
For the broader picture, the Faizabad district has five Assembly seats including Ayodhya, Goshainganj, Rudauli, Milkipur and Bijapur. Four of five seats are predicted in the vogue of SP, the one seat of Goshainganj could be BJP's victory. Arti Tiwari, the wife of former BJP MLA Indra Pratap Tiwari (currently in jail) is contesting elections from Goshainganj. She is likely to get sympathy votes.
Inflation and unemployment have also impacted people’s lives. Rajat Pandey emphasised, "The BJP government has done everything right, but couldn’t control inflation. Sab udyogpati ke hath mein chod diye hai." (They have left everything for the industrialists.)
According to data in the Handbook of Statistics on the Indian States, 2020-21 released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), food price inflation in 2014-15 was 6.6 percent and grew to 8.2 percent in 2020-21. The retail inflation was 5.9 percent in the year 2014-15, whereas in 2020-21 grew to 6.1.
On being asked how the construction of Ram Mandir has helped the people of Ayodhya - “The conflict is over, now we can focus on our livelihood. In the last five years, we saw no riots, now at least we are at peace.”- was the feeling expressed by most of the Ayodhyans.
*a few names have not been mentioned, as people were not comfortable getting their names published, especially the Brahman pandits.