AYODHYA: Orange flags flutter across Ayodhya on the eve of the day that changed the course of contemporary history in the country. But long before the lotus bloomed here, the temple town had already embraced saffron with the election of its first legislator.
Fifty years ago, Ayodhya elected its first MLA in the 1967 Assembly elections after the constituency came into being. The seat was won by B Kishore of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the precursor to the BJP.
The politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh was at the heart of the Ram Janambhoomi movement which catapulted the BJP to the centre-stage of politics in the nineties with its high-voltage campaign for a Ram Temple in place of the 15th- century Babri Masjid in the city. The mosque was razed on December 6, 1992, leading to riots in which at least 2000 people were killed.
Ayodhya is back in the news, with the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute coming up before the Supreme Court today, 25 years after the demolition.
As members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, whose offices have been adorned with orange flags and banners, get ready to mark December 6 as Shaurya Diwas (Day of Courage), old-timers recall the saffron hold over the town.
"After its formation, the Jan Sangh gradually spread itself throughout Uttar Pradesh including Ayodhya. Members of Jan Sangh in the initial days were ordinary workers, most of whom came from middle-class families," senior UP BJP leader Shyam Nandan Singh said.
In these 50 years, the Jan Sangh and the BJP have won the seat nine times, the Congress thrice and the Janata Dal and the Samajwadi party once each.
In the assembly elections in 1967, Kishore defeated B Singh, an Independent. In 1969, the Congress made its political debut in Ayodhya, as the party's Vishwanath Kapoor defeated the BKD's Ram Narain Tripathi.
The BJP consolidated its hold over the temple town from the 1991 Assembly election, which was won by its candidate Lallu Singh, who retained the seat in 1993, 1996, 2002 and 2007. In 2014, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Faizabad, which covers Ayodhya.
The Ram movement helped the BJP tighten its hold over the region. UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi recalls the role played in this by party leader L K Advani's rath yatra.
"The purpose of the Ram rath yatra, a political-religious march from September to October 1990, organised by the BJP, was to support the agitation of the VHP and its affiliates to erect a Ram temple at the disputed site," Tripathi said.
The saffron stronghold was breached in 2012, as the SP's Tej Narayan Pandey, alias Pawan Pandey, defeated Lallu Singh in a close contest. In the 2017 UP assembly elections, the BJP reclaimed the bastion with Ved Prakash Gupta defeating Pandey.
The BJP maintained its grip over the area as Ayodhya got its first mayor from that party after its municipal corporation came into existence following a cabinet decision within days of Yogi Adityanath assuming the office of chief minister in March.