Ayodhya: Bhajans of Lord Rama and Sita rend the air in the temple town of Ayodhya, spread in a radius of about five kilometres. People from different parts of the state can be seen trying to enter the small city ahead of the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Ram Temple scheduled on August 5.
The small temple city has been the epicentre of Hindutva politics and has been one of the key battlegrounds that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) make inroads into power at the Centre.
Once torn apart by one of Independent India’s very first communal riots, the city did not sleep one peaceful night, fearing more trouble, after the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground by a Hindu mob in December 1992, till the Supreme Court judgement on the Ayodhya land dispute case in November 2019.
Now, the temple town has now been converted into a virtual fortress and is abuzz with the maintenance and renovation work being done in a view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to the city for the Bhoomi Poojan ceremony for the Ram Temple.
While a large section of the Hindu community is happy with the religious festivities being planned in Ayodhya, there is another section within the community which does not have any problem with the temple construction, but is miffed with some other issues concerning the city.
Land for Lord Rama Statue
In Manjha Barhata village, the proposed site of the 251-metre tall Lord Rama statue announced by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the land acquisition could not be started by the administration owing to resistance by the villagers.
As per various official and unofficial sources in Ayodhya, the administration is struggling with the acquisition of 86 acres of land in the gram sabhas of Ayodhya, which is a home to a population of about 1,500 people. So palpable is the anger in the village that it seems the administration is set to have a tough time convincing villagers to let go of their land for the statue. Apparently, a large portion of the land to be acquired is owned by some Maharishi Trust, which has given its nod for the acquisition, but the villagers are not ready to leave the land.
Ram Chandra Yadav, the village headman, says villagers from all the four villages within his gram sabha will be left without any resource to earn their livelihood. “We will not let our land be acquired by them and we will challenge it in the High Court,” Yadav said, adding, “About 65 petitions have been filed by people of the village in the court against the acquisition and the demand of compensation.”
Arvind Yadav, a villager who is fighting against land acquisition, says the notification to acquire the land was issued on January 24 last, and the time to register the objection given to villagers was less. “We then moved to the High Court on January 28, but the court ordered the acquisition of the land, citing the Land Acquisition Act 2013. We then moved the court again in June and on June 16, the court asked the administration to do bandobast for the villagers. ”
“We do not have any problem with Ram. He is our lord but why our land?” he said.
Notably, Ayodhya is among those 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh that has been affected by floods. The Saryu river in Ayodhya has been flowing 70 centimetres above the danger mark, and as per government claims on paper, the state disaster relief forces are evacuating people and providing them with relief material.
Surprisingly, the Ayodhya administration has neither issued any health bulletin nor flood updates on their official Whatsapp groups since the past two days.
Businesspersons in Ayodhya last week took to Facebook and other social media sites to protest against the development and road widening of Ayodhya, saying it could hurt their livelihood.
Asharfi Lal, owner of the hardware store right in front of the Hanumangarhi temple intersection, expressed his dissatisfaction to this reporter over the road widening announcement by the Ayodhya administration.
“Who else will be happier than us for the temple’s construction. It is we, the people of Ayodhya, who have been praying for it since ages, but the way the administration has come up with the development plans is going to take a toll on all businessmen. To widen the road, they will first start the anti-encroachment drive and then they will acquire at least a 20 feet of land, which clearly means that all of our shops will be acquired. We will be given some compensation and asked to move out. If this happens and we will be ousted from a well-established market and it will become very difficult for us to survive. The new place where we start business will take much time to gain pace,” Lal said.
Some BJP Insiders Upset?
BJP leader Uma Bharati, one of the stalwarts of the Ram Temple movement, who was present when the Babri Masjid was being demolished, in a fiery attack told the media, “Ram par Ayodhya ya Bhajapa ki bapauti nahi hai. Yeh sabka hai.” (Rama belongs to everyone, he is not owned by Ayodhya or BJP) .
It may be mentioned that earlier, Bharati had written to the organisers to remove her name from the guest list for the foundation laying ceremony on August 5, saying she would visit the pious site only after the Prime Minister leaves in a bid to avoid coronavirus.
However, some party insiders say that Bharati is upset with a few names being omitted from the list by the organisers. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra declined to comment on this issue and even refused to confirm if Bharati was invited.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 threat continues to loom over the city. Acharya Satyendra Das, chief priest of the makeshift Lord Rama Temple in the complex, has been put under quarantine after two of his assistants tested positive. In a brief conversation with this reporter, Das said: “I do not know anything about the ceremony. The priest from his parliamentary constituency has been called to perform the ceremony. I have not been invited yet.”
As per official sources, the Prime Minister will spend about three hours in Ayodhya and might address the nation after the Bhoomi Poojan on August 5. Home Minister, Amit Shah, will not be present as he is hospitalised after testing positive for COVID-19.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Uttar Pradesh.