UP Polls: Ram Mandir Not a Poll Plank in Ayodhya
Ram temple construction site in July 2021. Image credit: The Daily Guardian
Ayodhya: Call it job distress or anti-incumbency, the Ram Mandir (temple) issue, which has largely set the poll narrative across North India over the years, was found to have less resonance this time in Ayodhya that is going to polls on February 27 in the fifth phase of the ongoing Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Following decades of legal battle and the ultimate Supreme Court verdict, which awarded the disputed 2.6 acres of land where the 18th century Babri Masjid (mosque) stood till the afternoon of December 6, 1992, a grand temple of Lord Ram is being constructed.
Although the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always tried to capitalise on the issue, taking credit for the construction of the temple, the effort is seemingly not striking a chord with Ayodhya residents.
Electorate of the holy town NewsClick contacted talked about unemployment, loss of source of their livelihood because of the new master plan to develop and beautify the town, price rise, health, and other civic issues.
They admitted that the BJP will get support from a section of that society that is "emotional" and prioritise "aastha" (faith) over issues impacting their daily life.
A resident of Old Ayodhya (Ayodhya Dham), Pawan Tiwari, an agarbatti (incense sticks) manufacturer, said that Ram temple is largely not an issue this election despite BJP’s attempts at making it one.
"Youth are set to vote against unemployment. A large chunk of the middle class, which is traditionally considered to be loyal to the BJP, will vote against high inflation. Though the BJP will eat into the vote base of the Bahujan Samaj Party (the SC community, which is extremely poor) because of the free ration scheme, it has lost trust of the seizable chunk of the non-Yadav OBCs (Other Backward Castes). The farmers will vote against the stray cattle and shortage of fertilisers. A big percentage of the trader community, which is facing the threat of eviction as a result of the road widening project, are also very unhappy with the party," he told NewsClick.
Rakesh Singh agreed with Tiwari and said both Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party (SP) national president Akhilesh Yadav held road shows here on February 25 – the last day of campaigning in the district.
"The turnout for BJP's roadshow, which was held for three kilometres, was thin. People from the entire district were brought to the town to take part in it. On the other hand, Akhilesh stole the show with an eight-kilometre road show. The streets of Ayodhya town were jam packed. It witnessed participation of the electorate from the constituency," he said, suggesting the Opposition has so far managed to turn the tide.
Ram Mandir is certainly not an issue this election, but caste is. SP’s selection of its candidate Pawan Pandey is expected to benefit the party as he is likely to get support of Brahmins, Yadavs, Muslims and a good chunk of OBCs, said Singh.
Krishna Pratap Singh, who has been reporting in Ayodhya for the past three decades, said that the dispute was resolved with the SC verdict.
"Ram Mandir might be the centre for aastha, but it isn’t a political factor for the locals. Yes, caste is crucial. But majorly, the election will be held on issues of people's concerns. There is a section of people who still think that the temple was constructed because of the BJP and they will vote accordingly, but largely, real issues and caste will dominate the polling," he claimed.
Even some of the ardent BJP supporters conceded that the Ram temple plank has not been sufficiently convincing for the voters.
"I will vote for the BJP because I have always supported the party, but how can issues such as price rise, unemployment and concerning farmers be overlooked? Ram temple plank did not work because people understand the party has no role in its construction. When people were demanding legislation to pave the way for construction of Ram temple, the BJP did not pay heed to it. When the court verdict came in the temple's favour, the party tried to take advantage. But it did not largely work," he added.
But there are people who believe that the saffron party's poll plank has worked, especially in the SC community, which has been of late “saffronised”.
"The BJP will benefit for sure. A silent majority will vote for it. It would be interesting to note how big their size would be," said Dr Anil Kumar Singh, associate professor in the Department of Hindi at Saket PG College.
RD Anand, a Dalit intellectual, too, echoed this view, but added that it won't help the party much.
"I am surprised why the Opposition failed to push the counter-narrative. Why did they not talk about farmers' agitation and other movements the country has witnessed in the recent past," he added.
Swapnil Srivastava, a local observer, said voters in the country always prefer emotional issues over real issues impacting their lives.
"I don't deny the fact that the BJP will benefit from the proposed temple as voters here are too emotional. But at the same time, the huge anti-incumbency can also not be overlooked," he added.
The BJP is no doubt, he said, is staring at a tough battle.
Ayodhya Assembly segment has 10 candidates in the high-stake electoral battle whose fate will be decided by a 3,79,633-strong electorate.
The seat has the highest concentration of Baniya voters whose strength is estimated to be around 70,000. The constituency has a seizable population Yadavs (30,000), Muslims (55,000), Brahmins (30,000) and Dalits (40,000).
'Upper' caste Thakurs (20,000) and Kayasthas (12,000) have smaller presence, while non-Yadav OBCs such as Kurmis (15,000), Nishads (20,000) and Mauryas (10,000) can together impact the electoral outcome.
Others add up to a number somewhere around 65,000. However, there is no official data to confirm these numbers.
Samajwadi Party's Tej Narayan Pandey aka Pawan Pandey is taking on BJP's Ved Prakash Gupta, who had defeated the former by 50,440 votes in the 2017 Assembly polls.
While Gupta had got 1,07,014, Pandey bagged 57,554 votes.
Analysts said that if the SP manages to eat into the trader community’s votes, it will benefit the Akhilesh-led party.
By securing 39,554 votes, the BSP candidate was a second runner-up in the 2017 polls.
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