A sadhu tries to protect himself from rain as he rides his bicycle in Ayodhya. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
Police personnel take shelter outside a shop as it rains in Ayodhya. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
A sadhu rides his bicycle at Ram ki Paidi last major beautification project taken up Ayodhya. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
An old dilapidated building in Ayodhya. The town lags far behind in development when compared to other religious sites. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
A sadhu reads a newspaper as Ayodhya returns to normalcy after the VHP arrests. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
A devotee prays at Saryu Ghat on the day of Janmasthami in Ayodhya. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)
Two days after the failed Parikarma attempt by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, temples lining the Saryu bank wear a deserted look.
Two days after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s controversial 84 Kos Parikrama failed to start, locals were still waiting for pilgrims to return back.
The lack of support from locals too, has made it clear that the Hindutva stranglehold over the town is loosening. “The yatra was a political gimmick. Otherwise why would VHP organise a parikrama which has already concluded in May,” asks Gaya Das, who has been supervising the parikrama since 1998.
Ayodhya, just like any other religious city, depends mostly on pilgrims. Sadhus depend on donations while the rest are involved in trade. “In the last one week, our recovery has reduced to one-third. Pilgrims get wary after such announcements which have a drastic effect on our livelihood,” said Nand K Gupta, president, Ayodhya Udyog Vyapar Mandal.
In comparison to other religious sites with similar demographics, Ayodhya appears to be stuck decades behind. Rishikesh, apart from being a holy city, has developed into a popular tourist destination. Closer home, the holy town of Vrindavan is attracting several real estate companies, giving a boost to its economy. “Ayodhya is still unknown to many foreign tourists. Declaring it a tourist destination will attract tourists, apart from just pilgrims,” adds Gupta.
Frequent unrest and the presence of security personnel is a common sight. Since 1992, when the Babri mosque was demolished Ayodhya has seen curfew -like situations whenever a political campaign or verdict related to the case made it to the headlines. “It is only benefiting political organisations. People are tired of the frequent hungama. Only compensation can make up for the losses ,” said Shah Alam, an Ayodhya resident.
Walking through the narrow alleys of the small town, it appears as if development reached the town’s doorstep but just stopped short of entering it. Crumbling buildings covered in thick layers of moss dot the town’s skyline. Locals have now started seeing through the usual political rhetoric, which studiously ignores developmental issues, reducing Ayodhya to only the Ram Temple issue. In 1991, when the Ram movement was at its peak, the BJP candidate won with a share of 57%. In the last election, after two decades, BJP lost to SP on the grounds of development and better governance.
While Ayodhya has been used as a political tool, education and employment opportunities have also suffered. “With no companies setting up shop due to the perceived instability in the region, people — mostly youngsters — are left with no choice but to leave,” says Manzar Mehdi, editor of a local Urdu weekly.
“The solution lies when every person recognises the farce behind this politics of religion,” said Naga Ramlakhan Das, a priest at the Hanuman Garhi temple. Das is also a part of a silent campaign that’s going on in the town, along with Babu Khan, a tailor who stitches the clothes for the idol of ‘ram lalla’, Justice P Basu, a retired judge of Allahabad High Court and many others. The signature campaign plans to present the Supreme Court a solution to the dispute locally — proposing to use the Hindu part of the complex to build the temple while the Muslim part will remain unused although recognised as their property. The effort to resolve the issue locally, many say, is due to a lack of trust in politicians who seem to be more interested in the dispute than Ayodhya’s people.