Ayodhya: The construction of Ram temple seems to have been relegated to "one of the poll issues" in Ayodhya this time as competing parties are raking up development topics and also relying on caste arithmetic for victory.
The BJP, for whom the temple town sharpened its Hindutva plank, is facing a challenge particularly from the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the ongoing state polls.
With 10 candidates in fray, the Ayodhya Assembly segment will go to vote in the fifth phase on February 27.
After it became clear that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath would not contest from Ayodhya, the party reposed faith in sitting MLA Ved Prakash Gupta, while the SP has fielded former minister Tej Narayan alias Pawan Pandey. The BSP, Congress and AAP, too, have fielded their candidates in Ayodhya, thereby making it a multi-cornered contest.
"It is going to be a close contest in the Ayodhya Assembly constituency. As far as the issue of Ram temple is concerned, the BJP was not able to derive optimum mileage during this election initially. The issue started cropping up only after the third phase of the polls," Mahant Raju Das of Hanumangarhi temple told PTI.
He said while the distribution of ration to the poor has benefitted people in rural areas, a number of party leaders, on the other hand, were of the view that they will be able to garner enough votes only with Modi and Adityanath's credentials.
They did not want to mingle with the people and connect with them, he said.
On whether the scene would have been different if Adityanath were to contest from Ayodhya, the mahant said, "There is no opposition to the BJP, there was an opposition only towards the candidate."
SP candidate Pawan Pandey told PTI, "Lord Ram and the Ram temple are not the fiefdom of the BJP. Prabhu Shri Ram belongs to all of us. Even when the BJP did not exist, Lord Ram did."
When asked whether he had heaved a sigh of relief after Adityanath decided not to contest from the Ayodhya seat, Pandey said it would have made no difference "even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi was named the candidate" (from Ayodhya).
A firebrand student leader from Lucknow University, Pandey had trounced the saffron party's local giant and incumbent MP from Ayodhya Lallu Singh in the 2012 Assembly elections. He had,however, lost to Gupta in 2017.
Pandey also alleged that the BJP has indulged in exploiting farmers, harassing traders and the Ayodhya Municipal Corporation has also significantly increased the tax. "We will roll it back," he said.
He said cows in cow shelters had allegedly died due to shortage of fodder and water. "They (BJP) claim to be 'Ram bhakts' (devotees of Lord Ram), but Adityanath and his government are killers of the cows," he said.
BJP nominee Gupta, when asked about a section of the people being miffed at his candidature, said, "You cannot satisfy each and every person in politics. I have not been able to please my family. However, I can say that work for the people has been done and development has taken place. Yogi has done a lot of development in Ayodhya."
By fielding a Brahmin, the SP is trying to exploit the upper caste displeasure with the BJP government. Out of about 3.81 lakh electors in Ayodhya seat, Brahmins account for over 62,000 while Vaishya voters number 51,000, Muslims 55,000 and Yadavs 37,000.
Iqbal Ansari, who was an independent litigant and son of one of the oldest litigants in the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri mosque dispute case, Mohammad Hashim Ansari, said, "People now want development and jobs."
"People of Ayodhya are now drifting away from the 'mandir-masjid issue', and talking about development and only development. It has already been two years since the Supreme Court gave its judgement. However, some people try to make the temple-mosque an election issue. The temple-mosque may remain one of the issues in this election, but not the biggest among the poll issues.
"Earlier, the Hindus and Muslims used to fight over it, but now there is nothing as such. The main issues in this election is price rise, which has affected almost each and every household," he said.
BSP candidate Ravi Prakash said the main issues are jobs and development. Shubham Srivastava of the Aam Aadmi Party echoed similar views.
Ayodhya mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay said, "Ram temple was never an election issue (for us). it was a matter of faith. It was an issue mentioned in the BJP's 'sankalp patra' (election manifesto), and we have fulfilled the promise, which we had made to the people."
A local homeopathy doctor Prajwal Singh said, "The electoral prospects of the BJP were not very good until a few days ago in the district. However, Thursday's roadshow by Adityanath has done a lot to contain the damage. The party's condition was not looking good in Ayodhya, Gosainganj and Milkipur Assembly seats. The success of the roadshow is likely to help the saffron party."