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Temple issue not on the BJP's election agenda in Ayodhya

Atiq Khan

Managers harp on development, candidate woos Muslims

He was against Modi addressing meetings Workshop near disputed site silent

— Photo: Subir Roy

IT'S QUIET NOW: The VHP's workshop in Ayodhya looks deserted on Saturday. The work on carving stones and pillars for the Ram temple has been suspended.

AYODHYA: In this Assembly constituency, the Bharatiya Janata Party is underplaying the Ram temple issue and harping on development as the need of the hour. If its election managers here are to be believed, the temple can wait but not "vikas" (development).

This despite the "hero of Ayodhya" Kalyan Singh visiting the temple town on Thursday and worshipping the presiding deity at the makeshift temple before campaigning for the BJP's Laloo Singh.

At the Ram temple workshop ("karyashaala"), about four km from the disputed site, the huge stone cutting and carving machines have fallen silent with the workers, mostly from Gujarat, leaving the place. When the work was in full swing 60-70 workers and artisans were present.

Sharad Sharma, media in charge of the Faizabad unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, however, denies that the work has been completely suspended. He cites the marriage season as the reason for the absence of the workers. "Most of the work has been completed and at present half a dozen workers are mopping it up," said Mr. Sharma, who also edits a local Hindu daily.

Till the present elections, the Ayodhya temple figured prominently on the BJP agenda in the region.

In Ayodhya, Brahmins account for the highest voter strength, followed by Thakurs, Vaishyas, Kurmis and Dalits. Hence, the presence of two Brahmin candidates, Indra Prakash alias Khaboo Tiwari of the Samajwadi Party and Ashok Tiwari of the Bahuijan Samaj Party, appears to have made things difficult for the BJP nominee. SP rebel and Congress-supported Samajwadi Kranti Dal candidate Beni Prasad Verma is also in the fray. However, according to Congress insiders in the temple town, he is unlikely to make any impact on the outcome. His bid to bank on the Kurmi vote-bank has come unstuck, they say. Kurmis have been traditional supporters of the BJP.

Mr. Laloo Singh, who is seeking victory for a fifth term from Ayodhya, has decided to woo the Muslims, numbering about 25,000, on the strength of the work he did in the minority areas.

He reportedly vetoed a proposal of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath addressing meetings in the town for fear that their presence and the possibility of their mentioning the Ram temple would have led to a consolidation the Muslim vote either behind the SP or the BSP, which is already eating into the BJP's Brahmin vote bank.

Rakesh Vashisht, vice-president of the Faizabad BJP unit, said "some" Muslims might support Mr. Singh as the SP candidate was "allegedly involved" in the murder of a Muslim corporator of Faizabad.

"Besides, the BJP nominee has always worked for the welfare of his constituents without discrimination."

The SP is banking on Mr. Tiwari getting around 50 per cent of the Brahmin vote, besides a majority of the Muslim and Yadav vote, to turn the tide against the BJP in Ayodhya, where the poll will be held in the seventh and last phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections on May 8.

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