Ayodhya, ground zero of BJP's political fortunes and 9km from Faizabad, is not excited about the prospect of the general election. And ironically, it was the Ayodhya Ram temple issue that catapulted the BJP on to the political centre stage.
A medical store owner, Anjan Gupta, says: "There is no excitement as yet. We will see what will happen nearer voting day."
Sitting in the BJP office at Faizabad, the party's prabhari (in-charge) in the district, Bankey Tripathi, says the contest in Faizabad, which will go to polls on May 7, hinges on caste equations and not on the temple issue. "The temple is not an issue now. We have made our stance clear in the manifesto," said the retired professor of ancient history, who has a keen interest in archaeology, in the renowned Saket College.
The party's 2014 manifesto says the temple issue will be resolved through constitutional means. But when the BJP-led NDA was in power from 1998 to 2004, the party had two stances. One was that if the BJP came to power on its own, then it would pursue its core agenda of the Ram temple, the abrogation of Article 370 and the imposition of uniform civil code. The party's particular stance on the temple was that it had to be resolved either through negotiations or through legislation.
Sitting at the site where the envisaged temple's pillars have been made and stock-piled to be moved to the site when the issue is sorted out, Ayodhya resident Shivnath tells dna: "The temple is not an issue. It is all about caste."
The BJP has fielded Lallu Singh, a seasoned local politician, hoping his clean image will work in the party's favour. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Mitrasen Yadav, who won the seat twice, in 1999 and 2004, hoping to cash-in on the 2 lakh Yadav votes in the constituency. The Congress, meanwhile, has fielded incumbent Nirmal Khatri.
Interestingly, the road from Lucknow to Ayodhya offers a smooth drive on a four-lane highway. Is development turning the people away from controversies? Locals complain that a key participant of the temple agitation, Vinay Katiyar, held the Faizabad seat for three terms but did not do anything for the constituency's development.
Mohammed Naseem, who runs a small shop of fabrics for the last 20 years, is despondent. He says that there is no prospect of improvement in Faizabad, and that those who have the money are doing well and those who do not are sinking further. So, who will he vote for? "We will decide after the campaign begins," he says.
The man who seems to have an upper hand is the incumbent, Khatri. He does not fit into the caste mosaic of Faizabad, and has managed to retain the image of the helpful local MP. Congress workers are confident that he will edge past his rivals.
Ram Manohar Pande, a guide at the Hanuman Garhi temple, explains that Ayodhya's population profile has changed over the years, especially after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. He says that Muslims in the temple vicinity have reduced to about 200 from about 1,000 earlier. Most have migrated to Faizabad. The general assumption in the temple town, according to him, is: "Modi baba aaye toh mandir banega (The temple will be built if Modi comes to power)."
Pande, whose family has lived in Ayodhya for three generations, says that a lot of people from Bihar have settled in the town, taking up work in the pilgrim centre and claiming to be natives. For Pande, Ayodhya means the temple town, which according to his count has 7,000 temples and about seven mosques. "There are many mosques in Faizabad, not in Ayodhya," he clarifies.