Beginning from 1990s and till few years ago, up till the Supreme Court gave a decisive verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi issue, a narrative was furthered for impressionable minds – that the vast majority of locals in and around Ayodhya had nothing to do with the dispute; that they didn’t want any disturbance; that communal amity among people in Faizabad-Ayodhya was total; and that people lived happily and peacefully with whatever they had and didn’t aspire for anything else, least of all the construction of the Ram temple at the site, officially called the `Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Parisar’. It was the outsiders who were trouble makers.
They, the vested interests come here trying to provoke people on the temple issue. Wisdom of locals was also thanked for not falling to high rhetoric on the Ayodhya issue.
It’s anybody’s guess as to who or which groups in the so-called intelligentsia furthered that narrative. To their credit they managed to sustain it for two over decades.
‘Why a temple, why not a school or a hospital?’ ‘What would people gain by construction of temple in Ayodhya?’ ‘Does India need a temple?’ They said this was a diversionary tactic by the Hindutva brigade to keep ordinary people's minds away from basic bread and butter issues.
As a reporter, this writer has heard all such arguments, since my first visit to Ayodhya in February 2002. I vividly remember that date, 28 February 2002, a day after the unfortunate Godhra incident.
I reached Ayodhya even as there was a curfew imposed in the city since that morning. The VHP and Hindu groups were then organising “shiladan” for the temple. I Visited Ayodhya twice more. My fourth visit to Ayodhya in 20 last years was the day before.
A drive from Lucknow to Ayodhya makes one realise that post the Supreme Court verdict and beginning of construction of Ram Mandir, things have changed fast and in the next few years, the whole landscape in and around the city is going to transform.
This report is not about the temple issue and how it is related with the Hindu faith. It is about how the construction of the Ram temple is changing the economy and society in the region—how those who said that locals had nothing to gain from the temple were patently wrong.
Now, business is brisk in Ayodhya and the economy of the region is poised solidly on a launchpad.
Ayodhya for ages had remained an old and dilapidated township. It didn’t have a decent place to eat, leave alone to stay the night. Faizabad was actually the place to be, with Ayodhya on only its margins, both for administration and for business.
The number of ordinary visitors was only in the hundreds. Hanumangarhi and the Ram Janmabhoomi site was accessible without any rush, without any waiting. But that’s history now.
The district is now called Ayodhya, instead of Faizabad and the municipality is upgraded into a municipal corporation (done by the Yogi government before the verdict).
The highway from Lucknow to Ayodhya was built earlier but it has now been beautified. As one approaches Ayodhya, one can notice the freshly planted trees on either side of the highway and along the road divider.
Big dhabas, eateries, fancy hotels, hospitals, showrooms of all kinds, and several big shops dealing in high end construction material have come up. A whole lot of construction is going on along the highways.
In the villages on either side, newer, bigger double-triple storied houses are coming up. Gone are the days of a humble approach to a sleepy township.
Land prices in and around Ayodhya have recently made it to the headlines. A parallel can be drawn with Gurugram in the National Capital Region, with what had once happened to the fortunes of its people when the millennium city was being set up.
Take the case of Shiv Kumar Yadav of Janaura village, a milkman by profession. Five years ago, he was in a bad shape financially. By an accident, his hut and gaushala were burnt. He had a land chunk but that didn’t produce any worthwhile yield.
He says “at that time there seemed no hope for me”. Then came the Supreme Court verdict and the Yogi government’s announcement to develop Ayodhya as a world class city. Yadav’s land was acquired for the airport and he got a hefty compensation. As some people sitting with him mentioned, “his bank account has several crores rupees”. Yadav grinned, ear to ear. He adds that he was also compensated for the fire in his gaushala.
There are many more like Yadav. Some people in the region have issues with land acquisition but as they say, that is the case everywhere with land acquisition.
Maheshwar Singh, a resident of a nearby village, runs a transport business. Despite Covid and consequent lockdowns, Singh is a happy man. His business is flourishing. “Now I have to hire many more people for loading and unloading. They are getting free ration from the government and employment from various development projects going on”.
At the bypass, Mukesh Sharma runs a tea stall. “I have a family of four. You can see my wife and daughter are working here with me. There is so much activity here, so much of new business coming. You have to keep aware, keep your eyes and ears open. Bhavya Ram Mandir toh ban hi raha hai aur uske saath unka aashirwad bhi hum sabhi ko mil raha hai” (Lord Ram is indeed getting a grand abode but at the same time we all are getting his blessings”.
Inside the temple town things have changed. Ram Ki Pauri on the banks of the river Saryu is a real delight. The road leading to Hanumangarhi and Ram Janmabhoomi is abuzz with visitors. So many new neat-looking sweet shops, announcing special laddu and khurchan peda have come up. Eateries are doing brisk business. The existing shops have upgraded their look and feel and new ones are trying to set standards.
According to a private estimate, before the verdict, around 1500 people used to visit Ayodhya daily. On some occasions the number would go up. That number has now gone up to 10,000-15,000 on weekdays and on weekends and holidays the number goes up 25,000-30,000. One January 1, this year the number crossed one lakh figure.
“This is only the beginning”, said Gopal ji, a professional who is associated with temple construction. People don’t realise that the amount of business Ayodhya is going to churn in the next few years, benefitting local people. Economy of the area is already transforming. You can see that. That's the magic of Ram Temple, he added.
One can safely say he was right.
Published on 25 February, 2022.
Sanjay Singh is a seasoned journalist who has worked in all formats of media: print, tv, digital. He is known for his field reporting and political analysis and commentary, particularly those relating to UP elections, assembly or parliamentary.
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