Thanks to the 132-year old dispute over Ram Janmabhoomi, the demolition of the Babri mosque 25 years ago and the Allahabad High Court’s ruling in 2010, most people in this dusty town believe Ram was indeed a historical figure who was born 900,000 years ago. But few have patience with history.
“Ram Mandir is fine but we need employment; where are the jobs?” asks impatiently a student of Saket Degree College in Faizabad, Suresh Kumar Singh. Indeed, local residents claim that the link between Ram and Ayodhya is so strong that of the 6,000 Hindu shrines and temples said to be in Ayodhya, more than 4,000 are connected with Ram. Faizabad had a population of 167, 544 with 50,000 of them in Ayodhya according to the 2011 Census. The literacy rate of the region is around 86.52 per cent which is higher than national literacy average of 74.04 per cent.
“This is basically an agricultural belt, but agricultural productivity has been steadily coming down because of repeated fragmentation of farmland. Smaller the farm, lesser the yield and this has adversely affected the economy of the region,” says Dr Paresh Pandey, an Associate Professor in the college. With reasonably good educational institutions in the region, the literacy rate is good. Thriving on the academic excellence of the students, hundreds of coaching institutions have mushroomed in the twin cities of Ayodhya-Faizabad.
The flourishing coaching institutions have proved to be ‘good business’ for those who run them or those who teach in them. But they are largely ‘outsiders’, lament local residents. The economy is actually driven by religion, says Pradeep Pathak. “Every second month you have a religious festival in the form of melas stretching from Magh to Kartik Punima. These melas are organised on the banks of river Sarayu and provide sources of income for people and small traders,” he said.
Official records suggest that over 30 lakh pilgrims visit Ayodhya annually – this figure excludes the people from surrounding areas who gather at the melas. People from across the country – particularly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal and South India visit Ayodhya for paying obeisance at local temples.
This is a huge number and can help in reviving the economy of the region,” Dr Pandey points out. “Why not develop Ayodhya on the lines of Varanasi and Allahabad? Ayodhya is as important for Hindus as Varanasi is. The difference is Kashi symbolises ‘moksha’ (salvation) while Ayodhya symbolises ‘Karma’- which asks people to fulfil their ‘putra dharma’ and ‘karma dharma’. But Ayodhya lacks the infrastructure required for promoting religious tourism. “The fact is we do not even have proper hotels in Ayodhya despite having such a good footfall of pilgrims. The dharamshalas are of poor quality. Only good hotels are found in in Faizabad and they too are both few and expensive,” Dr Pandey said. “Imagine having hotels with river facing rooms or rooms facing the Ram temple. This will add to religious tourism and people will start flocking to Ayodhya,” he said. Md Ahsaan Rahim, an entrepreneur who runs a transport business, felt that while the title to the disputed land would be decided by the court, nothing prevented the government from reviving the sugar mills in the region. “Why can’t the government revive the textile market of Tanda near Faizabad which will give a boost to the local economy,” he wondered aloud.
Yogi has put all eggs in the Ram Temple
But Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has put all his eggs in the Ram temple. His politics and economics are both centred around a magnificent Ram temple that. He hopes, would attract investment and generate employment and also help him and the BJP to deliver the state in the 2019 general election. His track record has been such that there are people who seriously believe that he may not even wait for a judicial verdict. And indeed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent declaration at Udupi that nothing but a Ram Temple would come up at Ayodhya and the UP chief minister’s own statements point to that direction. While addressing an election rally in Saharanpur Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declared that his government would ensure that all the cities of Uttar Pradesh would glitter like Ayodhya. Saharanpur – the prosperous western UP town is also home to Asia’s biggest Sunni seminaries in Deoband; and the Yogi may have been trying to tell people that the colossal sum of money that his government had spent in lighting up Ayodhya on Diwali this year would be replicated elsewhere. Ayodhya has been on his agenda ever since he took over as Chief Minister in April.
He lost little time in promulgating an ordinance upgrading Faizabad-Ayodhya as a municipal corporation – a decision which has not gone down well with people as they believe taxes would go up with no corresponding and visible return.
On October 16 the UP government pulled out all stops to organise Deepotasava when Ram Ki Paidi was decorared with over two lakh earthen lamps. Helicopters showered flower petals and models from Delhi dressed as Ram, Sita and Lakshman descended in a ‘pushpak viman’ ( a chopper). An event management firm was hired to look after the arrangements. On the banks of Saryu river, Yogi Adityanath declared that he would usher in Ram Rajya in Uttar Pradesh. A Ram temple, the UP chief minister hopes, would bring in the hordes and the moolah while securing the next election for him and the party. Not everyone is so sure though.