Last week, the Uttar Pradesh government changed Faizabad district’s name to Ayodhya. This was weeks after the government, headed by Yogi Adityanath, had renamed Allahabad as Prayagraj. A look at the political significance of Faizabad/Ayodhya, and how these names have been used in history:
Old names, later names
Ayodhya is part of Awadh region; Awadh was also a princely state founded by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. Before that, Ayodhya was part of the ancient Kosala state with Saket (Ayodhya) as its capital. The district has a postgraduate college named Saket, and a university named Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Awadh University.
Ayodhya is known as the birthplace of Lord Rama. Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, which tells the story of Lord Rama, was written in Awadhi, the local dialect. Ayodhya is the birthplace of at least five Jain tirthankaras, and Lord Buddha also preached there. Shravasti, another significant city during Buddha’s time, is 115 km from Ayodhya.
The district, currently named Faizabad, is headquartered at Faizabad city, nearly 7 km from Ayodhya city. Faizabad is also the headquarters of Faizabad division.
It was Nawab Saadat who gave Faizabad city this name. His successor Mansoor Khan made Ayodhya his military headquarters and Mansoor’s son Shuja-ud-Daula made Ayodhya the capital of Awadh, besides developing Faizabad as a full-fledged city. His son Asaf-ud-Daula later set up his capital in Lucknow.
The Lok Sabha constituency is called Faizabad, and is currently represented by Lallu Singh of BJP. It has five Assembly segments, all with BJP MLAs at present. From Independence until 1971, Faizabad elected Congress MPs as the party consolidated Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit votes. In 1977, Socialist leader Anantram Jaiswal won on a Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD), before the Congress reclaimed the seat in 1980 and 1984. In 1989, when the movement for a Ram temple in Ayodhya was at its peak, the seat was won by a CPI candidate, Mitrasen Yadav, who later won the seat for also the Samajwadi Party and the BSP ticket. A key leader of the Ayodhya movement Vinay Katiyar (BJP), won in 1991, 1996 and 1999.
Ram Janmabhoomi politics
Ayodhya has been a hotbed for politics around Ram Janmabhoomi since the early 1980s, when the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) started a movement for building a Ram temple on the site where the Babri Masjid stood. The movement had the support of both the RSS and the BJP, marked by then BJP president L K Advani’s Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat towards Ayodhya in 1990 before he was arrested in Bihar by the then Lalu Prasad government. The same year, some VHP followers were killed in police firing in 1990. The VHP announced a kar seva (start construction) and lakhs of followers assembled in Ayodhya, alongside several BJP and RSS leaders. Kar sevaks demolished the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
Since then, the BJP has raised the issue at almost every election. When heading a coalition government at the Centre, the party has not pushed the temple agenda while the matter remained in court. The RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits, however, have kept the issue alive.
Yogi and renaming
Yogi Adityanath’s reputation for changing Muslim names into Hindu names goes back beyond his chief ministerial tenure. In Gorakhpur, the Lok Sabha seat he won five times, he initiated the moves that led to the renaming of Mian Bazar as Maya Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar as Hindi Bazaar, and Humayunpur as Hanuman Nagar. As Chief Minister, he changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj only last month. There are more cities that he plans to rename soon, sources close to him told The Indian Express.
The latest moves come at a time when, sources said, the RSS has been critical of the state government on several issues. These moves are, therefore, being seen as an attempt to firm up ties with the RSS ahead of the 2019 elections. The RSS has always favoured ancient names for Indian places.