Why the BJP suffered a shocking defeat in Faizabad, the home of the Ram Mandir

Published : Jun 07, 2024 19:55 IST - 6 MINS READ

Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav stands with Awadhesh Prasad, the candidate for the Faizabad constituency after he emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha election.

Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav stands with Awadhesh Prasad, the candidate for the Faizabad constituency after he emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha election. | Photo Credit: ANI

Despite raising the Ayodhya Ram temple issue with an eye on the election, the saffron party fell short of its goal in the constituency.

Despite playing the Ram Mandir card in a big way, the BJP suffered a major shock in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad constituency, which includes Ayodhya. The Samajwadi Party’s Awadhesh Prasad, a nine-time MLA and former Minister from the Pasi (Scheduled Caste) community, defeated two-time BJP MP Lallu Singh by over 55,000 votes.

The Samajwadi Party (SP), which won 37 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the State, based its campaign on the slogan: “Na Mathura, na Kashi, abki baar Awadhesh Pasi” (Neither Mathura nor Kashi, this time Awadesh Pasi). The slogan was aimed to counter the BJP’s attempt at communalising the Mathura and Kashi disputes as well.

Indu Bhushan Pandey, an Ayodhya-based journalist and political commentator, like many other residents, however, is not surprised over the BJP’s defeat in Faizabad. Referring to Ayodhya’s chequered history, he said: “Whoever has tried to exploit Lord Ram have suffered defeat, and Ayodhya has won.”

The Supreme Court pronounced its final judgment in the Ayodhya dispute on November 9, 2019. In the 2022 Assembly election, despite the BJP’s election campaign built around the “Ram Janmabhoomi Aandolan” and the “double engine government”, the party lost Milkipur (SC reserved), one of the three seats in Ayodhya district, to the SP.

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In the May 2023 Ayodhya Municipal Corporation election, too, the party lost to an independent Muslim candidate, Sultan Ansari, in Ram Abhiram Das ward, which is named after a key figure of the Ram Janmabhoomi Aandolan, where the new temple now stands. “The BJP managed to retain the mayoral seats, but it lost to independent Muslim candidates in the wards where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned and where the RSS’ new office has been set up,” Pandey told Frontline.

Chequered history

The BJP was in power when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. In the Assembly election that followed, in 1993, the SP-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won the election in the State. During the campaign then, both parties challenged the Sangh Parivar’s war cry, “Jai Shree Ram”, with the slogan, “Mile Mulayam Kanshi Ram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shri Ram” (When Mulayam and Kanshi Ram came together, Jai Shri Ram vanished).

Soon after the temple consecration ceremony, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, on January 22 this year, BJP-led State governments launched special schemes to arrange free travel for devotees to the Ram temple. This was with an eye on the Parliamentary election.

In their rallies, BJP leaders and Modi attacked the SP and the Congress for their alleged opposition to the construction of the temple. In fact, the BJP vowed to come to power saying, “Jo Ram ko laaye hain, hum unko laainge” (We will bring back to power those who have brought Ram). During a roadshow in Ayodhya on December 30 last year, Modi credited his government with providing concrete houses to four crore people, underscoring that “there was a time when Ram Lalla was living in a tent”.

BJP’s miscalculations

The BJP, however, failed to sense the simmering anger among the residents, whose houses were completely or partly demolished for the Ram Path, a 20-metre wide, 13-kilometre stretch leading to the newly constructed temple. Besides, heritage temples such as Janki Shukla Mandir; Dashrath Mahal, once considered to be the birthplace of Ram; and Lal Mohariya Chah Bhaiyya Dharsmshala were also demolished.

“Residents who lost their properties and land weren’t properly compensated. The displaced residents, who were given land by the State government elsewhere, are yet to get legal rights over the allotted land. The government has plans to develop Ayodhya as a world-class climate-smart city. So Ayodhya residents have constantly been living under a threat that they can be displaced anytime in the name of the city’s beautification,” said Suryakant Pandey, a local political activist who fought the 2022 Assembly election from Ayodhya on a Community Party of India ticket. He said a part of Dr. Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University’s land, besides a set of buildings that house teaching and other staff, had been allotted to the Maharishi Valmiki International Airport, a move that too has not gone down well with the local populace.

According to him, the BJP’s “arrogance and extremism led to its debacle across Purvanchal [eastern part of UP]”. He was referring to the defeats of senior BJP leaders such as Smriti Irani (Amethi) and Maneka Gandhi (Sultanpur). Other constituencies within the Ayodhya division where BJP candidates lost include Ambedkar Nagar and Barabanki.

People read newspapers at a shop near Rampath in Ayodhya, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, after the BJP lost the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency.

People read newspapers at a shop near Rampath in Ayodhya, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, after the BJP lost the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency. | Photo Credit: PTI

Avdesh Kumar Singh and 42 other residents, who have lost their land and properties, have filed a writ petition in the Allahabad High Court against the State government. “The local administration, at the behest of BJP leaders, used the police to harass and displace people with an intention to benefit non-local investors and businessmen. The local public has given its verdict and defeated the BJP. Now we are hopeful that we will get justice from the court as well,” said Singh, who is president of Shri Saryu Nagar Vikas Samiti Uttar Pradesh, an organisation campaigning for the rights of Ayodhya’s residents.

Shailendra Mani Pandey, a local Congress leader, said the State government had ignored the residents, daily wage earners, local priests, shopkeepers, artisans, and boatmen along the Sarayu river. “Everyone is upset with the ruling BJP owing to its antipathy towards the local people,” Pandey told Frontline. He emphasised that Ayodhya’s economic development model is devoid of Ram’s ideals. In a district where a daily wage labourer gets Rs. 300, he said, poverty, unemployment and price rise were the real issues that shaped voter behaviour.

At a public meeting in Ayodhya’s Milkipur in April, sitting MP Lallu Singh remarked that the BJP would change the Constitution after getting a two-thirds majority in the election. “It backfired on the BJP. The INDIA bloc, which promised a countrywide caste census, used the BJP’s ‘400 paar’ slogan against it,” Suryakant Pandey said.

Also Read | How the Ramjanmabhoomi movement fuelled BJP’s rise and reshaped India’s political landscape

According to him, of the 19 lakh voters in Faizabad, 3,90,000 are Dalits, who have traditionally voted for the BSP and the BJP; this time they voted for the SP’s Dalit candidate. “They got a clear message that Baba Sahib’s Constitution will be changed and caste-based reservation quota will be abolished. For instance, a mohallah of Safaai Karamchaaris [sanitation workers] at Ambedkar Nagar voted en masse for the SP,” he said.

Many BJP workers in Ayodhya and other parts of eastern UP admit privately that the BJP’s “400 paar” slogan backfired. Further, many of them believe that ignoring senior leaders such as Vinay Katiyar had resulted in a lot of bad blood in the party. Katiyar, who played a key role in the Ram Janmabhoomi Aandolan, had won the Faizabad seat in 1991 and 1999.

Talking to Frontline in January, when the consecration ceremony took place, local Muslims in Ayodhya and Faizabad district expressed fears about a repeat of the incidents following the December 1992 demolition when kar sevaks violently campaigned for a Muslim-free Ayodhya. According to the residents, the rioters allegedly killed 18 local Muslims and damaged over 150 houses, shops, and some mosques in the area.

Indu Bhushan Pandey said the Lok Sabha results from Uttar Pradesh demonstrated a victory of socioeconomic justice over corporate-driven communal politics. He said: “Ram is believed to be an embodiment of righteousness. But the BJP tried to use him for electoral gains.”

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