A flurry of weekend activity around Ayodhya after chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s return from Delhi suggests the BJP plans to use the Ram temple to try and win next year’s crucial Uttar Pradesh elections.
Nripendra Misra, chairman of the temple-building committee of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, arrived in Ayodhya on Sunday, a day after Adityanath met his ministers and officials to discuss developing the temple town into a major pilgrimage centre.
Misra, a former bureaucrat who was principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was scheduled to hold a series of meetings with construction companies and Teerth Kshetra Trust members on Sunday and Monday.
“Work is on in two shifts round the clock. We hope to complete the work by October 11 this year,” Champat Rai, general secretary of the trust, said.
Adityanath’s meeting on Saturday came after he had returned from Delhi, having met Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda on Thursday and Friday and apparently discussed the strategy for the Uttar Pradesh polls, due in March.
The BJP is desperate to win the state not just to rebound from the Bengal drubbing and the bad press over its Covid mismanagement but to create momentum ahead of the 2024 general election.
That the BJP would milk Ayodhya to achieve this becomes clear from a statement released by the Uttar Pradesh information and publicity department about Adityanath’s videoconference meeting with finance minister Suresh Khanna, transport minister Ashok Katariya and senior officials from Ayodhya.
It quotes Adityanath as saying that Ayodhya would be developed “while keeping the ancient culture, heritage and tradition intact” and that the town would be “recognised internationally as a centre of spirituality, tourism and sustainability”.
Sources said the meeting discussed building a Ram museum in Ayodhya and roads connecting the proposed temple to every district mentioned in the Ramayan as places Ram visited.
Adityanath had held similar meetings on Ayodhya’s development immediately after taking over as chief minister in March 2017, but there was little follow-up after that.
Then, in February this year, his government earmarked Rs 100 crore for Ayodhya’s beautification and Rs 300 crore to connect all roads in the district directly to the site of the proposed Ram temple. It also approved Rs 140 crore for the integrated development of the town and the Surya Kund temple, more than 500 years old.
But no progress has been made since then.
Observers believe that at last week’s meetings in Delhi, the BJP central leadership had nudged Adityanath to get cracking on Ayodhya ahead of the Assembly polls.
The Delhi meetings had also discussed a “course correction” to improve Adityanath’s image as an uncaring and inefficient autocrat who had put off many party leaders and allies, sources had said while ruling out a leadership change.
On Sunday, state BJP vice-president Dayashankar Singh said in Mathura: “We will contest the 2022 Assembly elections under Yogi Adityanath.”