A Chance for peace?

In Ayodhya, is it a case of achieving closure, an uneasy calm or the beginning of a better future? Gajanan Khergamker reports from a city that’s gearing up for it’s place in the sun

The mythical city

Ab jake yahan pe pragati hogi (now there’ll be some development here),” beams 52-year-old Gopal Singh distinctly upbeat with the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya. Singh’s friend Quber Khan, too echoes his sentiments saying, “About time, Ayodhya moves away from this hatred. The locals here have lived in peace together for years but have become pawns in the hands of political parties.” Singh and Khan work in the buffalo trade shuffling between the Juber Ganj Animal Market in Faizabad and Khurdabad where they reside, a little distance away from Ayodhya — the epicentre of all the drama.

For the first time, with the exception of a handful of clerics from both religions going public with their versions on the verdict, it were the common masses — Hindus and Muslims — of Ayodhya who behaved in the most mature manner. And why not? After all, they had lived in harmony and unison for generations.

Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992
Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992

Emotional pitch

That the creation of a Ram temple would solve all of Ayodhya’s problems was an emotionally-charged pitch as old as probably religion itself. Quber’s son Afzal who doubles up as a contractor for civil works in the zone feels, “Isse accha aur kya hota? Ab beeti baaton ko dohrake kiska bhala hoga? Mandir ban jayega toh tourists aayenge, Dwarka ke jaise yahan pe bhi bheed hogi aur phir hamare yahan bhi road banegi, kaam milega (What could be better than this verdict. What is the use of talking about old issues? Now, with the creation of the Ayodhya temple, there will be footfalls from all over India just like the case with Dwarka. We will have
civic infrastructure and job opportunities too).”

It isn’t as if all is hunky-dory at the administrative headquarters of Faizabad district. There are simmering voices of discontent among a few Muslims within Ayodhya and beyond, across India, too. “We respect the court’s verdict but hope that this spells the end to the entire controversy and we move on,” says Raunahi-based Riyaz Khan. “We were very happy with the heightened security measures provided by the district and security personnel, and both parties had expressed the desire to send across a positive message to the world,” he adds.

Ayodhya’s District Magistrate Anuj Jha has a tall task ahead. After the successful handling of Ayodhya’s law and order situation, Jha has been working around-the-clock to ensure that peace, calm and harmony prevails till the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary that falls on December 6.

Even before the verdict, lakhs of devotees had visited the town for 14 kosi parikramas (circumambulation) and five kosi parikramas and then, soon after, on November 12 for Karthik Purnima, when five lakh devotees visited Ayodhya.

Ayodhya Palace
Ayodhya Palace

Hope is in the air

Over the last year, a lot of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders both at the national, as well as state levels, made statements that the verdict will clear the way for a Ram temple and, with it, Ayodhya’s all-round development. Locals here are hopeful that, religious sentiments apart, the Central government and the State government will ensure the holistic development of Ayodhya.

Now that the judgement has ordered the central government to draw up a scheme in three months for the temple’s construction, locals have put aside their scepticism, for now at least, and are hopeful that the State and the Centre are serious about the temple town’s development.

Most awaited

It was India’s most awaited judgement. One that risked sparking riots and violence across India as tempers were guaranteed to run high. In the Supreme Court ruling, that nation watched with bated breath expecting a simplistic reaction: One would celebrate a victory with a sense of vindication rather than relief while the other simmers with a rage that could spill over across India.

And then, the unthinkable happened. The Supreme Court delivered its verdict on November 9 amidst record security measures by the police in Ayodhya and political parties’ call for peace across India. And, on November 15, the first namaz after the verdict was delivered, went off peacefully despite fears and amidst tight security arrangements made for the day. Many offered prayers at Chowk Masjid and at Markazi Jama Masjid Tatshah, at Imambaras and in open fields.

For 23-year-old law student Mehek Gosavi visiting her aunt in Ayodhya, the state’s tackling of the Ayodhya issue after the Supreme Court verdict was “exemplary to say the least.” The strategic suspension of internet services in trouble zones even in Jaipur following the application of Section 144 and in Aligarh, placing reasonable curbs on freedom guaranteed by Article 19 worked towards nipping the fake news industry wreaking havoc through WhatsApp, telegram and social media on the occasion.

Gearing up

“All it takes is a small rumour to snowball into a controversy and ultimately a communal riot,” says Mehek. Her childhood friend Asma Khan, a self-professed ‘Insta-addict’, too, agrees. “I switched off my phone for the period and instead watched TV. It was such a wonderful time seeing everyone, irrespective of religious calling, come together to maintain peace in Ayodhya.

The Ayodhya verdict has flagged off two of Ayodhya’s largest projects — the Ayodhya Airport and the Lord Ram statue. Taken up as priority by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh, the state has already announced plans to acquire more than 285 acres for the airport which will also be named after Lord Ram, believed to have been born in Ayodhya. Also, in the direction, the state has released Rs 400 crore towards acquisition after which the existing air-strip would be re-developed to tackle larger aircraft.

The existing airstrip, set to be 1.5 km long and 30 meters wide, permits only small planes and will need to be 45 meters wide with a runway of 2.5 km to handle wide-bodied flights.

In February 2019, the state cabinet had cleared the proposal of investing Rs 640 crore on the airport project and even authorised the district magistrate to acquire land on a mutual agreement basis.

The Uttar Pradesh Government is all set to catapult Ayodhya on the national and international tourism network while providing the much-needed boost to local economy.

United front

Ab samay aa gaya hai ki hamara yahan bhi Jai Shri Ram padharenge…duniya ke sabse bade (now, it’s time for Shri Ram to come to Ayodhya and tower over the world),” quips a 27-year-old Vishnu Goel only to be swiftly reprimanded by his father and electrical shop owner Rajnath. “Jai Shri Ram to hamare dil mein basate hai…na ki kisi putle mein. Yeh sab toh rajneeti hai. (Lord Ram resides in our hearts and not in a statue. All this talk is only political), he says echoing the sentiments of all in Ayodhya.

While the Yogi government has initiated the process of acquiring land for the proposed 221 metres Lord Ram statue slated to be the world’s tallest and 38 metres taller than the current tallest Statue of Unity in Gujarat dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the locals in Ayodhya exercise rare and mature restraint in their demeanour.

State Tourism Principal Secretary Awanish Awasthi maintains that, “The process of land acquisition for the project has started.” Incidentally, on November 1, inspired by Sardal Patel’s statue in Gujarat, the Adityanath Cabinet cleared the proposal worth Rs 447 crore for the acquisition of 61 hectares (150 acres) towards a range of
tourism projects that include a spectacular Lord Ram statue, a digital museum, an interpretation centre, a library, parking, a food plaza, landscaping and other basic infrastructure facilities.

“The Yogi Adityanath government had, immediately after coming to power, made its priorities crystal clear,” says Subhas Nagar local Mehmood Hasan.

“The renaming of Faizabad district to Ayodhya and upgrading the local municipal council to Ayodhya Municipal Corporation apart, the much-awaited verdict on Ram mandir was a
given,” says the shopkeeper.

“Now, whatever the clerics may decide on the five-acre land provided by the Supreme Court, we want to give peace a chance,” sums up Hasan, echoing popular sentiments in Ayodhya.

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