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regular-article-logo Saturday, 13 April 2024

To Ayodhya in campaign mode: It’s Ram and Prime Minister Modi all the way

From village-level BJP worker to state minister, everyone seems to be competing to erect banners and hoardings along the highway that India’s movers and shakers will travel down on January 21 and 22

Piyush Srivastava Lucknow, Ayodhya Published 20.01.24, 05:22 AM
A poster in Ayodhya that depicts Ram and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A poster in Ayodhya that depicts Ram and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Picture by Piyush Srivastava

The thousands of banners and hoardings flanking both sides of the 160km stretch of National Highway 33 between Lucknow and Ayodhya remind one of election time.

While about half of them welcome guests to the January 22 consecration of the Ram temple, the other half plug the various welfare schemes and development projects of the Narendra Modi government.

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All of them feature images of the Prime Minister, the chief guest who will participate in the Pran Pratishtha of the Ram Lalla idol on Monday.

From village-level BJP worker to state minister, everyone seems to be competing to erect banners and hoardings along the highway that India’s movers and shakers will travel down on January 21 and 22. The hoardings carry the names, and sometimes pictures, of those who installed up.

Arches are being put up over the highway in many places for banners to be hung overhead.

A BJP worker from a village near the highway said party leaders were encouraging the likes of him to erect banners and hoardings with their own money.

“I’m preparing to contest the next village panchayat election. Senior BJP leaders said they would consider my candidature if I show my enthusiasm for Modi, the Ram temple event and the Lok Sabha elections,” he said, asking not to be identified.

“I have ordered 25 hoardings. Ten of them have been erected and the remaining will be installed by Sunday.”

He added: “I shall order 25 more for the elections after the temple inauguration, but the party leaders have asked me to allow these 25, too, to remain there for a few months.”

He didn’t say how much he spent on the hoardings. Among BJP leaders to put up hoardings are deputy chief minister Brajesh Pathak and Ayodhya MP Lallu Singh.

Many Opposition politicians have refused invitations to the temple consecration, accusing the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state of turning the event into a political one.

Of the 800 guests expected on January 22, the most privileged will be landing directly at the newly opened Maharishi Valmiki Airport in Ayodhya. So the 6km of road between the airport and the pilgrimage town too has been swathed in banners and hoardings.

“Over 25 chartered planes and an equal number of helicopters are expected to bring some of our guests to Ayodhya,” Champat Rai, general secretary of the temple trust, said. “The rest may arrive in Lucknow and from there travel by road to Ayodhya.”

One of the banners says: “The double-engine government implemented development schemes worth Rs 31,000 crore (in Ayodhya).”

A hoarding reads, “11.8 crore farmers have received the benefit of Rs 2.6 lakh crore till date”, presumably alluding to the Centre’s Rs 6,000 annual allowance for poor and marginal farmers.

One banner shows Modi holding a statuette and says: “More than 240 invaluable artefacts brought back to India.”

The police have forced eateries and shops along the highway that lack any parking space – that is, whose customers park their cars on the side of the road – to close till Monday.

But banners and hoardings that abut the roadside electric poles have been allowed to stay.

Liquor, meat

The Yogi Adityanath government has decided to have all the liquor and meat shops in Uttar Pradesh shut on January 22, a state home department official said.

“The CM believes that alcohol and meat shouldn’t be sold on January 22. We are going to issue an order and ask the police to ensure it is followed scrupulously,” the official said.

“Educational institutions have been asked to stay closed on that day. Government offices will open only for a cleaning drive involving all their employees.”

State director-general of police Vijay Kumar said “verification of all those who live on both sides of the rail tracks in the state” had begun “to strengthen security arrangements”.

He didn’t explain why this population was on the radar. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to arrive in Ayodhya by train after the temple consecration.

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