Ayodhya of antiquity: Ground zero of Hindutva politics set for new makeover

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to attend the bhoomi pujan (foundation laying) ceremony of the Ram temple on August 5
The recent off-the-cuff remark by Nepal Prime Minister K P Oli claiming Lord Ram was born in his country stirred a major controversy and put the media spotlight back on Ayodhya, away from the Covid-19 pandemic and the Indo-China border standoff.

Situated on the banks of the River Saryu, Ayodhya -- the proverbial ground zero of Hindutva politics -- is a much revered constituent of the Awadh region in central Uttar Pradesh for its association with Lord Ram and being the nucleus of the protracted Ram temple movement, which predated the country’s Independence.

After a prolonged legal battle, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court (SC) had on November 9, 2019, cleared the decks for the temple’s construction by ordering the constitution a Trust for the purpose.

Although the Ram temple movement is credited with helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) derive political capital by consolidating its vote bank on the issue, Ayodhya, over the decades, lost miserably to its UP peers in the socioeconomic matrix, which manifested in poor civic amenities and lack of quality hotels and connectivity to attract tourists.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to attend the bhoomi pujan (foundation laying) ceremony on August 5 of the Ram temple, which has traditionally been among the foremost poll planks of the BJP.

On coming to power in March 2017, the Yogi Adityanath government in UP had accorded priority to Ayodhya. The government even renamed the Faizabad district as Ayodhya, while upgrading the town as a municipal corporation for improving civic standards and increasing state funding.

To keep focus on the Ram temple issue, the CM has visited Ayodhya around 20 times. Owing to his personal attendance, Diwali in Ayodhya is now celebrated on a grandiose scale as Deepotsav (festival of lights). In 2019, the government created a Guinness world record of illuminating over half a million diyas (earthen lamps) on the Saryu’s banks.

With the temple construction in offing, the blueprint of the Adityanath government to position Ayodhya as one of the major religious tourist attractions in India — joining the league of state peers Varanasi and Mathura — is expected to further pan out.

Some major projects, which have been waiting in the wings, primarily owing to the delay in the Ram temple construction and the Covid-19-triggered lockdown this year, are detailed as under:

Lord Ram temple

The temple project will span about 7,900 sq metre, according to the new design prepared by chief architect Sompura brothers. This shrine is set to rank among the largest Hindu temples in the world. It will have the capacity to accommodate 50,000 devotees at a time. The major dimensions of the temple — length, breath and height — are pegged at 110 metre, 72 metre and 49 metre, respectively; it will now have five shikhars (spires/domes), instead of three earlier planned, to make it even grander. The foundation of the multi-crore temple project, to be funded by voluntary public donations, is likely to be laid with silver bricks/blocks.

VHP Regional Spokesperson Sharad Sharma said the devout people were coming forward to donate for the temple even during the lockdown. “The development projects in Ayodhya gained momentum after Yogi Adityanath became chief minister. While some of the projects have already started, we hope the remaining projects will see the light of the day after the construction of the Ram temple begins.”

Ayodhya International Airport project

In February 2019, the state Cabinet had cleared a proposal for investing Rs 640 crore in the airport project. Under this project, the existing airstrip in Ayodhya will be redeveloped to handle bigger aircraft and upgrade it for international operations. While the project spans 465 acre, the airstrip already comprises 180 acre; the remaining 285 acre is proposed to be acquired. The airport will be named after Lord Ram. Last year, the state had already released Rs 400 crore towards land acquisition.

The existing airstrip, 1.5-km long and 30-metre wide, is fit only for small planes. The airstrip will need to be 45-metre wide with a runway of 2.5 km to handle wide-bodied scheduled flights. The project is aimed at putting Ayodhya on the national and international tourism map.

A model of the proposed 221-metre tall Lord Ram statue
Lord Ram statue

The Adityanath government has proposed building the world’s tallest — 221 metre — statue, of Lord Ram, in the temple town. It will be 38 metre taller than the current tallest Statue of Unity, dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat.

According to the preliminary design, the 150-metre bronze statue will stand on a 50-metre pedestal, covered under a hood of another 20 metre. It will depict Ram holding a metal bow in his left hand, while holding an arrow in his right.

The state has already started the process of acquiring land for the project. The government has allocated Rs 200 crore for soil testing, wind tunnel test, design development, detailed project report (DPR) preparation, etc. Apart from the statue, related projects comprise digital museum, interpretation centre, library, parking, food plaza, landscaping, etc.

New Ayodhya township

The state has mooted a ‘New Ayodhya’ township project spanning nearly 500 acre. The modern township will comprise residential enclaves, temples, public spaces, parks, luxury hotels, and shopping arcades.

Ayodhya Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay said after Modi and Yogi came to power at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh, respectively, infra projects have gained momentum.

“The Ayodhya railway project is complete. The government is in the process of acquiring land for the international airport project. These projects will help Ayodhya regain its ancient glory and allow socioeconomic development by boosting the tourism potential of the region,” he said.

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