People lighting earthen lamps on banks of River Saryu during Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya
Ayodhya is a millstone the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has carried around its neck since the Babri mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992. It is something it cannot disown or distance itself from. Ayodhya brought mixed political results for the party. Until the deed was done, it gained handsomely in electoral terms by fuelling the ‘dispute’ around the Ram temple. The temple plank is resurrected by the BJP when it gets defensive on other issues such as development and the economy, as the temple remains the most potent symbol of Hindutva.
This October 18, when Uttar Pradesh was readying to celebrate Diwali, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath travelled to Ayodhya to preside over a spectacle of festivity. The politically canny ‘mahant’ of the Gorakhnath Math — his mentor, the late Mahant Avaidyanath, headed the Ramjanmbhoomi Nyas or trust entrusted with the construction of the Ram temple —cloaked the occasion’s religious import in development idiom.
He tweaked the definition of ‘Ram Rajya’ to signify electricity and cooking gas connections for every home. Indeed, Lallu Singh, the Lok Sabha member from Faizabad (of which Ayodhya’s a part), holds one of the best records in the distribution of the Centre’s ‘Ujjwala’ scheme.
Although the BJP has won the Ayodhya Assembly and Faizabad Lok Sabha constituencies several times since 1991, when the temple issue predominated its discourse, its victory margins have been narrow, with exceptions. In the 1991 Assembly poll, Sant Shri Ram Dwivedi won over Nishad Sita Ram of the Congress by only 3,557 votes. In the next election in 1993, perceived as a “referendum” on the Babri demolition, the margin improved when Lallu Singh defeated his rival, Jai Shankar Pandey of the Samajwadi Party (in alliance with the BSP), by 9,238 votes.
The BJP’s best showing was in the 2017 Assembly poll, when Ved Prakash Gupta beat Samajwadi’s incumbent MLA, Tej Narayan Pandey, by 50,440 votes. The issues were PM Narendra Modi and the “surgical strike” the Centre had carried out on the western border.