As the Modi wave gained steam in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, the Ram mandir movement became a poll plank in Ayodhya. “My government will build the temple,” Narendra Modi, then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, had thundered from the stage, designed in the model of a proposed Ram temple, at an election rally.
Five years on, as Modi, who is seeking a second term as the prime minister, returned to Ambedkar Nagar, just 25 km from the Ram Janmabhoomi site, the script had changed. The stage was hardly any different from those that host Modi rallies in other parts of the country, and there was no mention of the Ram temple on Modi’s lips. Even UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who addressed the rally, did not bring up the temple issue.
Ramlal Gaur, 27, who owns a dhaba in Ayodhya, says the temple issue deflected attention from Ayodhya’s problems and trapped its people in a web of politics created by forces outside their control.
Or Kishan Maurya, 37, who drives an auto and calls himself as Ram bhakt, but has a family of five to run, says, “The temple will come up in its own time. The government should focus on improving lives of people and make the country stronger.”
Modi spoke to Ramlal and Kishan on Wednesday on the sidelines of his 20-minute speech from the dias, which revolved around the multiple schemes of his government. He claimed inheritance to the legacy of B R Ambedkar’s and Ram Manohar Lohia’s addresses in Faizabad and Ambedkar Nagar, which have a sizeable presence of Scheduled Castes.
“Behenji used Baba Saheb’s legacy for her fortune. The so-called Samajwadis used Lohia’s name for theirs. People like you have lost in this,” Modi said, attacking the BSP-SP alliance.
Modi spoke about PM Kisan Scheme, wherein Rs 6,000 per year will be given in three instalments to farmers, or the Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, where the insured receive Rs 2 lakh cover against an annual premium of Rs 330. “How many hours of electricity supply did you get in your homes before Yogiji was there?” he asked.
“I pushed for these schemes despite the government budget taking a hit,” Modi said, demanding a response from his audience whether it benefited them.
“Our vote would go to the BJP. There has been improvement in farmers’ lives. That's why so many farmers have come to listen to Modi, leaving their work in a reaping season,” says Jagat Verma, a farmer from Faizabad, who owns 8 acres of farmland. Standing beside him, Ramen Verma who owns 13 acres, says he doesn't believe the government can change lives. “We have to work for it. The government can only be a sadhan (facilitator). This government has done that. There are 18 hours of power supply, toilet and a gas cylinder in all houses. This is vikas (development),” he said, frequently clapping as Modi spoke.
But Modi knew he had to speak about Ram if he was in Ayodhya. “The Deepawali celebrated here is being attended by world leaders. When you go and speak about this, the image of Ayodhya improves. Soon, the city of Lord Ram will have four-lane highways and an airport pulling an influx of tourists,” Modi said.
“It removes the scar of the 2005 bomb blast,” he said, after his trademark pause quickly shifting to the next part of his speech — national security.
Vishal Kumar Maurya from Faizabad clapped and chanted slogans of “Modi Modi” as the prime minister spoke about the Balakot air strike.
The 42-year-old’s hardware business had to bear the brunt of demonetisation and goods and services tax. While Maurya feels things could have been better, he strongly believes that Modi had bolstered the security and status of the nation.
It looked like the man on stage had heard Maurya as he was finishing his speech. “Yeh Naya Hindustan hain! Yeh ghar main ghusega bhi aur marega bhi,” he thundered before finishing his speech with chants of Jai Shri Ram.
The show was over. The magician had left his audience spellbound.