AYODHYA: The Ram-janambhoomi issue looms so large in this semi-urban Assembly constituency that locals maintain they vote for the BJP time and again though they are well-aware that development has taken a backseat over the years in the temple town.
The area around the Ramjanambhoomi is always bustling with people, from nearby towns as well as far flung areas, who come to Ayodhya for a darshan of Lord Ram. The heavy posse of police personnel and high security has become de rigueur for the pilgrims, who patiently bear with the rigorous checks.
Amidst the regular hustle and bustle of this town which always seems to sport a festive look, the on-going elections seem to be just a speck with occasional discussions on the issue. Most feel it is the BJP which is going to win again.
"If the BJP loses even here then it would be a shame for the people," says Ramesh, a local youth.
Lallu Singh, the BJP candidate for this Assembly seat, has served five consecutive terms in the Vidhan Sabha since 1991 and is trying his luck again. People feel he may not have done much work, yet he is amiable and down-to-earth.
"Most MLAs hanker after gunners, security and a cavalcade of vehicles but not Lallu Singh," said a shopkeeper.
Giving an interesting twist to the contest here is eunuch, Gulshan Bindu, who is in the fray as an independent.
"He has been fielded by Congress President Sonia Gandhi to cut into my votes," Lallu Singh told PTI.
Bindu, a graduate according to locals, may get the votes of those unhappy with lack of development work in the constituency and the significance given to the temple issue which is again a part of the BJP manifesto in these polls.PTI RC
Lallu Singh, who won by a margin of only 5,741 votes in the last Assembly elections in 2007, is jittery about his prospects but insists he will sail through smoothly.
The Saryu River which flows through this constituency is one of the dirtiest rivers in UP and is a health hazard for the locals, according to official reports. Though not much effort has been made to clean it up, Lallu Singh maintains it is one of the cleanest rivers in the country.
During his last tenure as Chief Minister from 2002-07, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had mooted a township plan on the banks of the river but it came a cropper.
"You think Yadav will ever do anything for Ayodhya? He is busy wooing the Muslims. He did not visit the place as Chief Minister even after the last terrorist attack here," Singh said.
On July 5, 2005, terrorists had made a failed attempt to destroy the makeshift Ram temple at the disputed site. Since then the place has become a virtual fortress guarded by Central security forces.
The local politicians are said to be opposed to the proposed township- which, if built, would occupy 1,695 acre of land along the Saryu- as it would displace around 50,000 families and thus antagonise their votebank.
The main source of income for the locals are the devotees of Lord Ram who visit Ayodhya everyday in thousands. The local shopkeepers make money selling various products ranging from sweets and flowers meant for prasad to be offered to the deity to household items.
Some local youth also make a fast buck as tourist guides to people who are curious about the various temples around the Ram Janambhoomi- arguably the birthplace of Lord Ram- as well as the disputed spot itself where the Babri Mosque once stood.
The outsiders wish to know more about the December 6, 1992 incident when the mosque was razed to the ground by kar sewaks and the more recent 2005 attack by terrorists. An over-whelming majority of visitors, however, are those who are here to offer their prayers to Ram Lalla.
"Last time Sonia Gandhi had fielded Beni Prasad Verma against me but he could get only 4,000 votes. This time other than the Congress candidate, she has also fielded this eunuch to defeat me," Singh said.
Verma, who is now the union minister of Steel, is a prominent OBC leader from the Kurmi community which has a sizable presence here. He had managed to get only 4,798 votes.
While most agree that Bindu is not going to win and will only play the role of a spoiler, he is the talking point for many in the constituency.
"He will get a few thousand votes," said a sweets-shop owner in Hanumangarhi area.
Indra Pratap Tiwari (SP) was the runner-up in the last Assembly elections. Samajwadi Party has fielded Tej Narain Pandey as its candidate this time while Ved Prakash Gupta is in the fray from the BSP.
Lallu Singh insists that people would not vote for him every time merely because he is from the BJP and supports the construction of a grand Ram temple at the disputed site.
"My political opponents spread such canards about me. If development had not taken place, the people would not vote only in the name of the temple. I stand for all-round development of Ayodhya and this is on my agenda this time too," he said.