In the polarised political climate of Uttar Pradesh, Faizabad and by extension Ayodhya are an antithesis. Muslims are angry with the SP, the BSP and the Congress — who have aggressively courted their vote — and deny it is their “responsibility” to defeat the BJP and Narendra Modi, while among Hindus is a wariness about the party that led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement but failed to deliver despite forming governments at the Centre and in UP.
Faizabad, 5 km from Ayodhya, saw little violence after the Babri Masjid demolition, but riots in the city and outlying villages in October 2012 have changed its political landscape. Clashes erupted on Dussehra (October 24) during a procession to immerse Durga idols. At Rudauli, some 40 km from Faizabad, miscreants threw gulaal at a mosque. Phone calls and messages inflamed sentiments and within an hour riots had encompassed Bhadrasa, Faizabad city and Shahgunj. Four were killed, hundreds of shops and houses were burned and several fled their villages forever.
Memories of the violence remain, but political attitudes have changed. Muslims are ready to vote for the BJP in the hope they will be spared from vendetta, while Hindus are reconsidering amid claims that the BJP candidate was selected poorly. In the toss-up, the Peace Party, which won four seats in the 2012 assembly elections, has emerged with an outside chance.
Mohammed Arif, 34, had seen his cloth shop, his life savings and business burn to the ground at Bhadrasa village. He has received around Rs 15 lakh as promised by the SP government, but said, “Will I vote for the SP? Never. We voted them to power and were rewarded with riots across UP. They gave us compensation but my shop was more valuable then.”
Arif is puzzled at reports that Muslims in UP are voting “tactically” to defeat the BJP. “Why is defeating the BJP or Modi our responsibility? We are very clear here, we will vote for the best candidate and in my opinion the BJP (Lallu Singh) stands the best chance. In fact most of us at Bhadrasa have almost decided to vote for the Peace Party,” Arif said. He added that the absence of SP, BSP and Congress leaders during the clashes only made the decision easier.
A neighbouring shopowner, Kalim Khan, said, “Maqsood Ali from the Peace Party has been working not only for Muslims but for everyone here. He comes to our homes, talks about water, power and roads, not just this Modi, Rahul rubbish.”
In Faizabad city, the mood is again of anger against the SP, BSP and Congress. Taufiq Akbar, a shopkeeper in the main market, says, “I don’t know the reasons for the riots but if I vote for the BJP, maybe they will leave my shop and family alone.”
In Ayodhya too, the mood is similar but against the BJP tide. A priest of a temple along the Saryu River ghats said he had voted for the BJP every time since 1992, but wouldn’t in 2014. “Then they had purpose, the construction of a Ram Temple had made us proud to be Hindus. Now they talk about it only when elections come. They cannot use us like this.”
The priest also admits that local community politics have hurt the BJP. “They have given a ticket to Lallu Singh, who is a Thakur, possibly because of Rajnath Singh.” He too agreed that Maqsood Ali is a capable candidate.