More than Ram tem­ple, peo­ple of Asha­pur seek­ing progress and jobs

Peo­ple at ground zero of the Ay­o­d­hya ri­ots want de­vel­op­ment rather than re­li­gious pol­i­tics

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - NATION - Man­ish Chan­dra Pandey TO­MOR­ROW

ASHA­PUR (AY­O­D­HYA): Shiv Pu­jan Ya­dav, the gram prad­han of Asha­pur, was born a year af­ter the then Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav govern­ment or­dered po­lice fir­ing on kar se­vaks at Ay­o­d­hya in Oc­to­ber 1990.

When the Babri mosque was de­mol­ished, paving the way for a makeshift tem­ple to come up on the spot, Shiv Pu­jan was just over a year old. The de­mo­li­tion led to com­mu­nal ri­ots across the coun­try, killing al­most 2,000 peo­ple and deep­en­ing a com­mu­nal di­vide that In­dia is yet to over­come.

But de­spite the fact that Asha­pur is al­most lo­cated on ground zero, just three kilo­me­tres from the dis­puted site, Shiv Pu­jan isn’t bur­dened by the past. “I haven’t vis­ited the ‘tem­ple’ even once. I am a be­liever who would like a tem­ple to come up, but let’s leave it at that. As a young ed­u­cated cit­i­zen, I be­lieve in pick­ing vikas (progress) over aastha (faith),” he says as his 52-year-old fa­ther, Sa­haj Ram, smiles.

Not sur­pris­ingly, chief minister Akhilesh Ya­dav’s smart­phone of­fer is more of a talk­ing point in the vil­lage than Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav and his pol­i­tics of the 90s. The 15 lap­tops in the vil­lage, dom­i­nated mostly by Dal­its and OBCS, out­num­ber its lone tem­ple and two mosques.

Nine­teen-year-old Uma Devi, a BA fi­nal-year stu­dent who goes to study at a col­lege 10 kilo­me­tres away, says young girls of the vil­lage are also in­spired by Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao’ scheme. “Modiji may be a politi­cian, but he comes across as some­body re­ally in­ter­ested in chang­ing the coun­try’s land­scape,” she adds.

Even il­lit­er­ate women in the vil­lage, such as the el­derly Du­lar­mati, swear by the ben­e­fits of de­vel­op­ment. “I am an an­gootha chaap, some­one who can’t even sign. But if you ask me to pick between roz­gaar (em­ploy­ment) for my sons or a tem­ple, I would read­ily pick the for­mer,” she says.

But it’s not as if the Ram tem­ple is­sue doesn’t concern the res­i­dents of Asha­pur. In fact, they re­call it with a sense of dis­ap­point­ment. “For years, our politi­cians have been promis­ing us the Ram tem­ple. But these talks resur­face only dur­ing the elec­tions. One feels cheated. So many lives were lost for the cause,” says Sa­haj Ram.

How­ever, the winds of change are blow­ing. “There was a time when pop­u­lar Hindu sen­ti­ment was guided by the sole de­sire of see­ing a tem­ple at our lord’s birth­place. Things are not the same now. The youth have moved on,” says Ganga Ram, a 62-year-old labourer.

The tem­ple move­ment of the 90s had united Hin­dus – es­pe­cially the OBCS and the Dal­its – like never be­fore. The Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh is try­ing to ef­fect a re­peat per­for­mance ahead of the 2017 Ut­tar Pradesh polls, but Asha­pur res­i­dents feel the caste bar­ri­ers are too strong to break this time around. “I hope they even­tu­ally evap­o­rate. They must. But right now, all this talk of Hindu unity is po­lit­i­cally driven,” says an el­derly man.

Even Shiv Pu­jan, who starts his day with a prayer, be­lieves that the “tem­ple is an is­sue out­side the tem­ple town”.

Vil­lagers say Asha­pur is most likely to wit­ness a Sa­ma­jwadi Party ver­sus Bharatiya Janata Party bat­tle in the Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tions, and de­vel­op­ment – rather than di­vi­sive is­sues – is the plank on which it would be fought.

DEEPAK GUPTA/HT PHOTO

The tem­ple move­ment of the ’90s had united Hin­dus — es­pe­cially the OBCS and Dal­its — like never be­fore. The Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh is try­ing to ef­fect a re­peat per­for­mance ahead of the 2017 UP polls.

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