Lalu Singh, the BJP’s candidate from the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency (that includes Ayodhya), uses an idiom shorn of the Hindutva phraseology of the nineties.
So, no Ram temple and the paraphernalia of rituals associated with it, like the panch kosi parikrama (a 15km or five-kos perambulation), shila pujan (consecration of the bricks) and paduka pujan (worship of spiked sandals worn by sadhus).
Lalu Singh’s discourse focuses on development of the Narendra Modi genre.
At the Arkuna Chauraha, 10km from Faizabad town, Lalu Singh, who lost a parliamentary and an Assembly election in 2009 and 2012, sounds chuffed at the bounty the BJP’s new ally, the Apna Dal was bringing in: the block votes of backward caste Kurmis who matter in several constituencies in the Avadh region as well as eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Not as voluble or muscular as the Yadavs, the search for a political abode caused the Kurmis to take temporary shelter in various phases with the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and even the Congress.
If Nitish Kumar is the most popular Kurmi face in Bihar, the community’s best known representative in Uttar Pradesh is Union minister Beni Prasad Verma. Verma had promised to deliver his caste votes to the Congress in the 2012 Assembly elections but failed so miserably that his own son was a straggler in his seat.
By contrast, the BJP wooed a small Kurmi party called the Apna Dal and succeeded. Its leader, Anupriya Patel — an alumna of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College — had chopper-hopped to address Lalu Singh’s meeting in the heart of Faizabad’s Kurmi pocket recently. Anupriya was among those seen with Modi on his open jeep that traversed Varanasi on April 24.
“This election has no challenges because there is a Modi wave. Scheduled castes, backward castes, upper castes, all are voting the BJP because they want to see a damdaar (strong) Prime Minister,” Lalu Singh said.
As for the Ram temple, on which the BJP built its political capital, he suggested it was for the courts to decide. “That (the temple) is mentioned in our manifesto. The case is pending before the Supreme Court, so let the court pass a judgment, which all parties will have to accept. We can also pass a law that is acceptable to Hindus and Muslims.”
The comments seem a far cry from the BJP’s rhetoric in the nineties of the temple being a “matter of faith to be adjudicated in the people’s court”.
But Aditya Singh, 22, who helms an NGO called Alexis Society and is helping out Lalu Singh because of family links with Faizabad, believes there is “no place” for the “VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) sort of aggression any longer”.
“The temple movement has its place in history but the country has moved on. The Constitution is supreme and Modiji has emphasised its supremacy. The temple is a symbol of faith but development is for real. What Ayodhya needs is infrastructure to promote religious tourism, like Tirupati has done, and not protests and demonstrations,” said Aditya.
In Ayodhya’s main market, the Tedi Bazaar, people seemed cold to the temple. “Enough is enough. When God ordains it shall be built, it will come up. We want peace so that our business doesn’t suffer. Above all, we want a good government that checks corruption and we think Modi is the best candidate for the job,” said Abhishek Kumar, a vendor of religious texts.
But Brijesh Singh, a transporter and a former Faizabad district Congress office-bearer, disagrees with the notion that the churn is fuelled entirely by a yearning for “development” and the Modi-as-PM theme.
“Hard politics is at work here. In the 2009 election, Lalu Singh lost because he failed to connect with the Kurmi and Passi (a Dalit sub-caste) voters who were added to the constituency after delimitation. Their votes went to the Congress (that won Faizabad in the last election).”
Brijesh said there had been a number of communal skirmishes in the past two years. “Across caste lines, Hindus feel the Samajwadi Party government favoured Muslims and made them feel emboldened. No party, the BSP or the Congress, spoke up for Hindus. Only Lalu Singh demanded a fair probe into the incidents. The Hindu consolidation we are seeing is an outcome of this.”
While Modi's much-touted “Statue for Unity” project — which envisages a humongous statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel in Gujarat out of contributions of iron ore from across the country — didn't make news, Brijesh claimed that it enthused Uttar Pradesh's Kurmis, who are also known as Patels. The Kurmis revere Sardar Patel as a political icon. “They felt that at last somebody was doing something concrete to honour his memory,” he said.
Faizabad-Ayodhya vote on May 7