Ram Mandir dispute: Saffron posters dot roads to Ayodhya as Hindu groups gear up for showdown on 25 November

Siddhant Mohan

Editor's note: Since the BJP assumed power in 2014, calls to build a temple for Ram in Ayodhya have become more strident; they have been amplified following the installation of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. A large collection of Hindutva groups will assemble in Ayodhya on 25 November to intensify the campaign further. Firstpost will run a series of ground reports to document this movement.

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With VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena aligning themselves for the grand meet at Ayodhya on 25 November, the walls of cities and districts in and around Ayodhya are plastered with saffron-coloured posters, saying, "Chalo Ayodhya (Let's go to Ayodhya)" with an image of Lord Rama in a war mode.

Some posters also call for "Shankhnaad (war cry)" against the idleness of governments for Ram Temple construction.

One sees small trucks with LCD projectors at many places in Ayodhya and Faizabad. These trucks roam around the city and showcase Ramayana, a 1986 television series directed by Ramanand Sagar.

A 'Chalo Ayodhya' poster outside Charbagh station in Lucknow. Siddhanth Mohan

A 'Chalo Ayodhya' poster outside Charbagh station in Lucknow. Siddhanth Mohan

Ram Kishor Sharma, 44, a toy vendor, who was watching the show in one of the trucks parked on Ayodhya-Faizabad highway, says the show re-connects him to his roots.

"It reminds me what a person Lord Rama was and that our gods do not belong to some tent (referring to the Ram Lala at the disputed site in Ayodhya)," he says.

These posters and LCD vans are part of the preparations to kick-start fresh agitations demanding the construction of Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

On 25 November, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has called for a "Vishal Dharma Sabha" and "Shankhnaad" for the construction of Ram Temple. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP have already extended their support to the event with the state government overseeing the management for the upcoming gathering.

Shiv Sena, an outfit which played a key role in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and reportedly in the subsequent violence, has also announced to visit Ayodhya during the same time. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will enjoy state guest status by Yogi Adityanath and will visit Ram Lala at the disputed site. He will also take a holy dip in the Saryu river.

Sharad Sharma, official spokesperson at Vishwa Hindu Parishad, says they are expecting around 2.5 lakh people to attend the Vishal Dharma Sabha in Ayodhya. This, however, is too large a gathering for a small city like Ayodhya, and, is making some residents nervous.

A 'Chalo Ayodhya' poster in a locality in Lucknow. Siddhanth Mohan

A 'Chalo Ayodhya' poster in a locality in Lucknow. Siddhanth Mohan

Kaushal Kumar Sharma, a 21-year-old student from Hanuman Garhi, Ayodhya, said that he is planning to shift his family to Lucknow around the time the agitation starts.

"People have been saying that a lot of people will come (to Ayodhya) and create a 1992-like situation. My family is thinking to shift to Lucknow around that time. People may lose their lives," says Kaushal.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, however, says that the residents in the city have nothing to fear.

"Those who say that there is fear in Ayodhya, they are either in influence of political groups or they have surely did something wrong with Ram Lala. Else, they do not have to fear. Ram's devotees have always been non-violent and will always be," says Sharad.

"People must know that Ram Temple is crucial for Hindus of this country. It has suffered many setbacks in the past, but it is time we think that it should start taking shape. Ram Lala is living in a tent," he adds.

Joginder Kumar, SSP of Faizabad district, says that the state police has made all arrangements to ensure law and order during the agitation. He says, "We have deployed forces everywhere in Ayodhya. Our primary concern is that the event goes without any hiccups."

"We have zero tolerance policy on violence. Anyone trying to disrupt the peace will be dealt with strictness," adds Kumar.

Ramayana by Ramanand Sagar being screened at a screen in Faizabad. Siddhant Mohan

Ramayana by Ramanand Sagar being screened at a screen in Faizabad. Siddhant Mohan

Voices from the others side

Hashim Ansari, one of the key parties in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case, passed away in 2016. Soon after that his son Iqbal Ansari took up the position as one of the parties in the case. However, Iqbal's name is still to be included as a party in the Supreme Court.

On 15 November, Iqbal jolted the local politics by saying that his life is at risk, and if the state does not provide him enough security, he will leave Ayodhya before 25 November. The state government increased his security without any further delay and police officials have set up a camp outside his house in Ayodhya's red zone.

When we reached Ansari's house, he was giving bites to a regional television channel. However, even after claims of threat to his life, no visitors or their belongings were being checked. Ansari says, "Whenever mob gathered in Ayodhya on someones' call, it did not end well for the local residents."

File image of Iqbal Ansari. Siddhant Mohan

File image of Iqbal Ansari. Siddhant Mohan

He further says, "It was 1990 when Karsevaks got killed. Then came the year 1992 when the historic Babri Mosque demolition took place and many innocent lives were lost with a huge loss of public as well as private property. And now 2018, when many people are gathering on call of organisations which led the demolition and further violence in 1992. I sense that it is not going to end well for me, as I am one of the parties in the case."

Ansari asks everyone to follow the Supreme Court verdict on the case.

He, however, is now filled with praises for Yogi Adityanath and the BJP. "Yogiji has brought law in Uttar Pradesh. With him as our chief minister, I am sure that it is not going to be easy for anyone to dismantle Ayodhya's fabric," he says.

A volatile Ayodhya

 

Ayodhya, however, is in a volatile state. While most of the people believe that the temperature inside Ayodhya has gone up again, there are some who believe that nobody will be able to cause another violence in Ayodhya.

"This is not 1992, and the matter is in the Supreme Court. If people believe that it's that easy to create a temple €" as compared to destroying a mosque €" for a mob, let me say that this is not possible at all," said Mohammad Arif, a 52-year-old shoe seller from adjacent Faizabad district, which was recently renamed as Ayodhya by the Adityanath government.

Arif further said, "This is because the ruling BJP does not have anything to show to the voters until the next Lok Sabha election. They want to cash in the temple movement once again."

Surya Pratap Singh, a former IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh cadre, questions the motive of the agitation.

Singh had written several Facebook posts asking functionaries of VHP, RSS and BJP as to against whom are they blowing the "shankha" while also seeking their explanation with regards to the real barriers that Hindutva groups are facing in constructing the Ram Temple.

Ahead of the 25 November event, Singh has been organising several rallies and public events in Ayodhya and Faizabad spreading awareness about the event.

"They are unclear whom they are going against (in the agitation). If they are against the government, they should protest in Lucknow or New Delhi. If they have objection to the Supreme Court, they should do it before the Supreme Court in New Delhi. And if they are against Muslims, they should go to Muslim localities and protest there," Singh said, adding, "But they are protesting in peaceful Ayodhya where no such bodies are present. What one should infer from such things? Simple, they are doing it for political gain."

Singh presses on the fact that even the Opposition is silent on the issue because it does not want to suffer the loss of Hindu votes. "But someone has to do it, so I and some of my friends are taking up the job," he says.

When we entered Ayodhya, the city was already flooded with several thousands of devotees who came for Panchkoshi Yatra €" a ritual where devotees take rounds of a sacred path in Ayodhya €" and giant posters of several BJP leaders and post holders were installed at several places asking everyone to take part in the 25 November gathering.

One such devotee Raju Kumar Agrahari, 22, originally from Barabanki, wishes to stay in Ayodhya until 25 November, but he is also apprehensive of what is going to happen. "I want the Ram Temple to be constructed in Ayodhya and I love the tone of the agitation happening in here. I want to stay as long as possible to see what Hindu unity could bring, but I am also worried of what could possibly happen that day and onwards," he says.

Several people who have come to Ayodhya say that the Sangh parivar and other Hindutva organisations are trying to cash in on the devotees, who have been arriving in the city for almost a week before the 25 November event.

Vinod Kumar Yadav, a 23-year-old tea-seller at Ramghat crossing of Ayodhya, said, "They have said that they will bring more than 2.5 lakh people to Ayodhya from outside, but while they are campaigning for it, they already know that Ayodhya is filled with devotees who are like blessing in disguise."

"Their campaign is clever. They say that people are already coming for Ram Temple, but in reality, they are just devotees who are here for Panchkosi Parikrama," added Yadav.

Also See: Madhya Pradesh polls: Congress accuses BJP of playing religious politics; saffron party says Opposition like 'fish out of water'

'Temple first, then govt': Udhhav Thackeray intensifies campaign for Ram Mandir ahead of his two-day visit to Ayodhya

Amar Singh says BJP should bring an ordinance for building Ram temple in Ayodhya; praises RSS

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