Lok Sabha elections ground report: In Uttar Pradesh, ‘Ram’ has already made a difference | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Lok Sabha elections ground report: In Uttar Pradesh, ‘Ram’ has already made a difference

Mar 24, 2024 01:33 PM IST

Political allegiances are changing in UP, clearly in favour of BJP and Modi. But the Ram temple seems to have also deepened the fault lines of polarisation

Last month in Ayodhya, I witnessed a surge of simple devotion and spirituality among the faithful. And beyond faith, it was not difficult to sense political implications.

A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering prayers before the Ram Lalla idol during the Pran Pratishtha ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.(PTI file)
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering prayers before the Ram Lalla idol during the Pran Pratishtha ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.(PTI file)

Also in February, I was at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari where the hordes waiting for a boat ride were more tourists than faithful. Then, during a visit to the temple dedicated to the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya at Palady, I witnessed spirituality sans any political overtones.

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On March 8, on Maha Shivratri, I watched tens of thousands of devotees line up in a queue that stretched beyond three kilometers for a glimpse of their beloved deity in Varanasi, or Kashi. This time, it was impossible to miss the political overtones. I have been to Kashi earlier but have never seen and heard jubilant groups dancing and chanting Jai Shri Ram near Assi Ghat.

ALSO READ: Ayodhya ground report: Sheer devotion not assertive aggression

In Ayodhya, I suspected Lord Ram will play a role in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh. In Kashi, I am convinced Ram is paying a very big role. And this is true even more so in Uttarakhand.

I have talked to people in at least 30 Lok Sabha constituencies across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and the sentiment of a majority has been uniform: Ram Temple would have been impossible had Narendra Modi not become prime minister in 2014. They credit Modi not just for the Ram Temple, but also for reigniting self pride and a sense of identity among Hindus.

ALSO READ: Lok Sabha elections ground report: Ram matters but welfare is key

In Etawah, Pintu Yadav, a cheeky youngster of about 25, makes it very clear: “In the 2022 assembly elections, my vote was for Akhilesh Bhaiya. But this time, I am definitely voting in the name of Ram and Modi. I will think again about my choice when the next assembly elections come”.

Etawah is a stronghold of the extended family of the late Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Samajwadi Party leader challenged the Ram Temple movement with his own Muslim-Yadav alliance for more than two decades beginning 1990.

There are numerous Yadavs like Pintu who will desert their fellow Yadav Akhilesh this time and vote in the name of Ram. A Samajwadi Party leader in Prayagraj who did not want to be named was candid enough to admit that it would take a Herculean effort from his party to reach a double-digit tally in Uttar Pradesh in the 2024 elections.

Amidst all this hype generated by the consecration ceremony of the Ram idol at Ayodhya, I also saw deepening fault lines between Hindus and Muslims. I spoke to a few people near the Mohammed Ali Johar university in Rampur, established by SP leader Azam Khan who now spends time between jails, hospitals and courts.

Young Muslims there were fuming at the humiliation heaped on their leader by the Yogi Adityanath regime. Azam Khan was once the undisputed Sultan of Rampur. He won the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Rampur. Since then, he has been convicted of assorted crimes, disqualified from holding office and jailed. Even his son Abdullah Azam has been convicted and disqualified. The BJP won the by-election held for both the Lok Sabha and assembly seats in Rampur.

The polarisation is deeper in Haldwani where I spent time soon after the mob violence. A Hindu activist Ramesh says it is high time the Muslims are “taught a lesson” because they repeatedly flaunt their street power and mock the state. A Muslim who wanted to be known just as Imran bitterly tells me to celebrate Ram and wonders if his parents made a mistake by not following other relatives to Pakistan in the late 1940s. He is more bitterly about the disputes over Kashi and Mathura and makes it clear he is proud of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

India has been largely successful in navigating these fault lines since 1947. Can it do the same as Ram triggers both a resurgence of Hindu faith and polarisation?

(This is the seventh in a series of 40 field reports from all corners of India in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections that aim to understand how the country is changing in fundamental ways)

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