Water tankers hosed roads, policemen ran security drills, the mayor distributed 1 lakh diyas as Ayodhya prepared to welcome the Prime Minister Wednesday for the bhoomi pujan of the Ram temple, a single act it hopes will bury its turbulent past and start a new journey. Frozen in time ever since the dispute over the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid found its way to the courtroom and the temple movement gathered steam, Ayodhya is weary of its past and present.
Many here were born after that December day in 1992 when kar sevaks tore down the Babri Masjid within five hours, deepening the communal divide in the country even as it catapulted the BJP to power.
Yet the town’s future is linked to the construction of the temple, starting with the bhoomi pujan Wednesday. Because now it’s going to draw more and more people, driven by faith, belief or mere curiosity.
The temple work will set in motion the rise of a new township, Navya Ayodhya, over 500 acres near Manjha Baretha along the Faizabad-Gorakhpur highway. Officials say the plan has been around for three years, but is now poised to take off with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath taking personal interest.
Resorts near the Saryu, luxury hotels, apartment complexes, proximity to the proposed Ram statue, planned as the tallest in the country, and its linking to the temple site via a pilgrim corridor are part of the plan to transform the landscape.
Ayodhya’s first mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay says he is going to push for grant of heritage status to the existing town. While it is too congested for any new intervention, it has to be preserved, he says, given its cultural and historical significance.
As chief of the Ayodhya municipal corporation – the civic bodies of Ayodhya and Faizabad were merged to create a single entity and Upadhyay became mayor following elections in November 2017 – he plans a heritage walkway through the old town.
For now, he hopes to execute plans for sewers and drains within the extended municipal limits, estimated to cost Rs 600 crore and Rs 324 crore, respectively.
Navya Ayodhya is now a priority and Upadhyay says it will be a reality in five years. And given that it expects a sharp rise in pilgrim numbers in the near future, the Railways machinery, too, is moving to transform the Ayodhya railway station, complete with a temple-look design.
The pandemic has led to extension of deadlines, but station superintendent Mahendra Nath Mishra says work is underway for the new station.
It will have six platforms, he says, as against the existing three, and there will be modern facilities for passengers. The electrification plan for greater operational efficiency and line capacity is also moving.
While there are great expectations here, there’s also concern. Of matters more pressing, jobs for the youth, for instance. Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesperson Sharad Sharma says the commencement of temple construction means their movement has reached its goal, a journey that began in 1984. He says the VHP will now resume its work against conversion and focus on social empowerment. While he says the future is “Sundar Ayodhya, Swachh Ayodhya, Vikasit Ayodhya”, he acknowledges the concern over lack of employment opportunities.
“Samaj ki rozi-roti sarkar ke karya se poorti hogi (livelihood issues will have to be resolved via government works),” Sharma says.
Ayodhya is already looking beyond August 5, at a future that has, on the ground here, always seemed elusive.
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