Ayodhya has woken up to the chanting of "Sitaram Jai Sitaram" blaring out from the loudspeakers atop Hanumangarhi, the small fortress-temple of Hanuman that dominates the skyline of this religious town.
Ayodhya is one of the 51 seats for which voting has begun today (February 27) in the penultimate fifth phase of the ongoing Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Sitting MLA Tejnarain Pandey, who is also known as Pawan Pandey, is from the Samajwadi Party (SP) and is considered close to CM Akhilesh Yadav, is likely to lose to either Ved Prakash Gupta of BJP or Bazmi Siddiqui of BSP.
This is conceded by even loyal supporters of SP who are in large numbers in this Assembly seat which covers a large area of Faizabad district. The total number of registered voters is around 3,48,000.
The caste composition is roughly as follows: Yadavs number around 70,000, SCs around 75,000, Muslims around 40,000 and other Hindu castes, including Brahmin, Thakur and Baniya, around 1,00,000. The rural and urban vote is divided almost equally.
A total of 14 candidates are in the fray and besides the SP-Congress, BJP and BSP, the only other somewhat serious contenders are from the Bahujan Mukti Morcha (Banshilal Yadav) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (Dharmendra Upadhyay). Both are likely to act as spoilers and will garner at least a few thousand votes in this tightly fought contest.
In the last Assembly election in 2012, BJP’s Lallu Singh (who is now the MP from here) had lost to Pawan Pandey by only a couple of thousand votes. Till 2012, the BJP had held the seat for 15 years but failing to improve the state of affairs; the people of Ayodhya had sought to teach them a lesson by voting in a younger Brahmin candidate.
However, this time around, the BJP has by and large succeeded in sending a message of "Hinduism in danger” and "vote for country’s good”.
The arguments for the BJP winning mainly peg on the appeal of PM Narendra Modi and the perceived wave in its favour after the first three phases of election. The wave seems real if one were to believe the mainly upper-caste chattering classes who were up till late last night canvassing support on WhatsApp and informal interactions.
Like the 2014 election, the BJP strategy to carpet bomb both conventional and social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp with polarising messages seems to be working. Ayodhya is crucial to the BJP’s electoral success owing to the Ram-Janambhoomi movement which propelled it to 89 Lok Sabha seats from a measly two in the 1990 parliamentary elections.
|The total number of registered voters in Ayodhya is around 3,48,000. Photo: India Today|
However, the supporters of SP, mainly the Yadavs and Muslims, were seen citing the massive development work done by the Akhilesh government in the last five years. But local anti-incumbency against Pawan Pandey, who was also a minister, is working against him and, therefore, experts say it is going to be a fight between BSP’s Bazmi Siddiqui and BJP’s Ved Prakash Gupta who was earlier in the BSP and also the SP.
But this fact coupled with demonetisation is not endearing him to sections of the BJP’s core support base of traders, some of whom are rooting for the BSP. “A person like me who had saved some money after years of toil is not going to forgive the BJP so easily, I don’t care who wins Ayodhya but I pray that BSP forms the next government in the state,” says Mr Shashi Kumar who runs a eatery in Faizabad.
What is often concealed from visiting journalists is this silent support for the BSP in this seat which has never had a Muslim candidate from a major party.
In the past, only Hindu candidates have won from the Ayodhya seat, which symbolically speaking is the launching pad of BJP’s national rise.
And this fact is not forgotten by supporter-turned-critics of the BJP who believe the party has done nothing for the temple town or the region which is today plagued by unemployment and lack of development.
To such sections, the BJP’s ploy to play the religious card of "Hinduism in danger” is yet another attempt to exploit the religiosity of the people here.