Ayodhya is central to Hindu right-wingers who want a Ram temple to be built where once the Babri Masjid, demolished in 1992, stood. But at ground zero, which the BJP believes would propel itself to power in UP, a Muslim candidate is grabbing attention.
Bazmi Siddique, 33, fielded by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), feels that Behanji (BSP supremo Mayawati) has done something which no other party dared to do in the past 25 years.
“Being the only Muslim candidate will help and the fact that 20% of the voters will have the option of a Muslim candidate for the first time in 25 years, is going to work in my favour,” said Siddique, speaking to HT.
It has been 24 years since the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished and the constituency has seen five assembly elections since then. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won five elections before 2012 - four post-demolition, has always been the favourite of the 3.65 lakh voters here. Even in the 2012 election, in which BJP lost the first time, the margin was just 5,000 votes.
“We know that we are not going to get Muslim votes but that hardly matters. Muslims vote for the candidate who is capable of defeating BJP and that had been the tradition for the past 5-6 elections. But this doesn’t mean we don’t work for Muslims. As far as Ram Mandir is concerned, there is nothing to hide and it is in our agenda. But we will also work towards development and unemployment,” said Dinesh Jaiswal, IT cell president of Faizabad district of BJP, who is managing the campaign for BJP candidate, Ved Prakash Gupta.
Gupta, 65, contested in 2007 from SP and in 2012 from BSP. “But he has always been a member of RSS and this is his return in BJP,” added Jaiswal.
In the late 1980s, the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute started to dictate politics in the state and constituency and many feel that BJP become a national party only because of Ayodhya. But locals as well as candidates feel Ram Mandir is not an issue anymore.
“Every time there is an election, BJP creates hatred by raising the issue of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The issue doesn’t exist anymore and voters have understood it. They want development, which we will provide,” said Siddique.
“BJP talks of Ram Mandir but roads leading to the temple are in bad condition. Sewer overflows and devotees always complain of lack of cleanliness... People want peace and politics of temple will not work anymore,” he added. Bazmi, 33, also the youngest candidate, is a property dealer and has been into politics for 10 years.
Residents of Ayodhya, whose life changed drastically after the 1992 demolition, say they had enough of Ram Mandir politics. “Ram Mandir has always been an issue for outsiders, locals only want cleanliness and development,” said Krishan Kumar Srivastava, who owns a paan shop in front of Ram Mandir.
Sitting MLA Tej Narayan Pandey from the Samajwadi Party, also banks on development as he feels voters are tired of politics of division.
“Congress, which got over 30,000 votes last time is not contesting and supporting us. We are highlighting the development work done in the past five years. Traders are not happy with BJP and they can’t fool the public in the name of Ram Mandir anymore. All these factors will convert into votes,” said Manoj Jaiswal, district president of the Samajwadi Party.