Different political strokes for different saintly folks in Ayodhya
The Samajwadi Party scored a surprise win in this holy city in 2012. At that time, the SP’s Pawan Pandey ended BJP’s 21- year winning streak here since 1991, opening up not just the holy city but its ashrams too for the party.lucknow Updated: Mar 04, 2017 19:25 IST
Saints are synonymous with Ayodhya. But, never before have they been as politically divided as they appear to be ahead of the Monday’s fifth phase poll when the temple town goes to vote along with 52 other seats in central and eastern UP.
The Samajwadi Party scored a surprise win in this holy city in 2012. At that time, the SP’s Pawan Pandey ended BJP’s 21- year winning streak here since 1991, opening up not just the holy city but its ashrams too for the party.
While Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, the head of Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas, is siding with the BJP having described the Modi government at the centre as ‘Ram bhakton ki sarkar’ (a government of believers in Ram), Bal Yogi Ramdas, the ‘mahant’ (priest) of Ayodhya’s Kartalia Ashram, is pitching for the Samajwadi Party.
Anxious to win back Ayodhya from the SP, the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Ved Prakash Gupta, who contested the 2012 UP polls on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. The Samajwadi Party has gone with Pawan Pandey whose surprise win in 2012 had made the then SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav famously declare, “Ayodhya ne mujhe maaf kar diya (Ayodhya has forgiven me).” Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister during the controversial firing on kar sevaks in the holy city in 1990.
Lallu Singh, the BJP lawmaker who was defeated here in 2012 won the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat in the Modi wave in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll.
Lallu is now camping in Ayodhya to ensure a BJP win. The Vishva Hindu Parishad volunteers too are spread all across the holy city.
“The 2012 loss was an aberration. We are mainly trying to make people aware of the need to elect a person from a nationalistic party,” says Sharad Sharma, the VHP’s Ayodhya face.
“The SP’s 2012 win in this holy city appeared to have changed equations as in his stint as the chief minister, Mulayam’s son Akhilesh visited the holy city on numerous occasions, sanctioning roads and promising the development push this holy town badly needs. But BJP has the Modi edge, making it anybody’s guess,” says Suresh Mishra, a local journalist.
The BSP has fielded a Muslim candidate Bazmee Siddiqui, a first for any mainstream political party in Ayodhya.
“Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has done so much for Ayodhya. I will surely vote for Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party development push,” says Bal Yogi Ramdas on phone to HT.
“Yes, like most of us the saints too are divided in their support to politicians. So while Mahant Bal Yogi Dasji Maharaj of Kartalia Ashram, Mahant Vinod Das of Sugriv Ashram, Mahant Kanhaiya Das of Ram Dham Ashram are supporting the SP, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das is among the top saints rooting for BJP. I will say that about 50% saints are with the BJP, 40% with the SP,” says Shoaib Ahmad, owner of a tent shop close to the Ram temple.
One of the saints here – Bhavnath – has also set up the Samajwadi Sant Sabha. Bhavnath is a priest from the famous Hanumangarahi temple whose head priest Mahant Gyan Das has praised UP CM Akhilesh Yadav.
The VHP’s Sharad Sharma however refuses to believe that any saint could be with the Samajwadi Party.
“I, too, have heard reports about saints like Mahant Gyan Das being close to SP. But this can’t be true as he is head priest of Hanuman temple. As any Hindu would know, Hanuman was a Ram loyalist. So how can the head priest of Hanuman temple be any different?” he asks.
Of the nearly 3,16,723 voters in Ayodhya about 20,000 are saints. They alone may not be in a position to make much of difference but their word matters for their followers.