Atiq Khan places his finger on the pulse of the voter in Ayodhya

There was a time when the Ram factor dominated all other aspects of electioneering in the Ayodhya Assembly constituency in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh — a fact corroborated by the fairly longish tenure enjoyed by Bharatiya Janata Party's Lalloo Singh as the MLA from here.

His diehard supporters, however, deny that “Ram Lalla” alone had not been instrumental in getting him the mandate. “Vidhayakji (MLA) has excellent reach among the Dalits and Muslims as well. He has always been at their doorstep to help them in times of need, or to attend social functions,” said a BJP worker. In 2012, Singh is trying to win a record sixth term in the Vidhan Sabha.

But much water has flown down the Saryu since the last elections in 2007. The Ram card, as was found out, no longer sells. Ayodhya craves for more. Appalling civic conditions, lack of basic amenities, particularly for tourists who throng the place from all over the country, and the havoc created in the rural areas by the annual floods in the mighty Saryu — these are some of the issues that stare Ayodhya in the face.

The historic Ram ki Pairi lies in a state of utter neglect, notwithstanding allocation of funds for its development by both the Mulayam Singh and Mayawati governments. “Nobody talks about the local issues, these are conveniently swept under the carpet, only the caste factor emerges in the end,” says Ahibaran Kumar Pandey, a voter residing near the Ram Janma Bhumi Nyas Karyashala in Karsevakpuram. “Most of the electorate is unaware of the manipulations made by the politicians,” adds Jai Shankar Mishra, another resident.

Now, even the sitting MLA has understood that “vikas” (development) is what the people of the constituency are looking for. The BJP is fighting the polls in Ayodhya on the development plank. Mr. Singh was locked in a direct contest with Ved Prakash Gupta of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mr. Gupta, belonging to Baniya community, is a traders' leader who started his political career in the BJP, went over to the Samajwadi Party when Mulayam Singh was the Chief Minister and was made the general secretary of the SP Udyog Vyapar Sabha. Now in the BSP, Mr. Gupta had benefitted from the shrewd political sense of Chief Minister Mayawati, who has named him the party candidate.

“Being closely associated with the problems of the traders' class, Guptaji is very popular among them. Even the Baniyas in rural areas support him,” said Deoki Nandan at the famed Hanuman Garhi temple in Ayodhya town. According to a teacher in the Saket Post Graduate College in Faizabad, who wished anonymity, “The BSP candidate, assured of the support of Mayawati's core support base, is likely to cause a huge dent in the traditional Baniya vote of the BJP.”

The other candidates in the fray are Tej Narain Pandey alias Pawan Pandey of the Samajwadi Party and Rajendra Pratap Singh of the Congress. The Congress had not contested the 2007 elections from Ayodhya, won by Lalloo Singh, who garnered 37 percent of the votes cast. Samajwadi Party's Indra Prakash Tiwari alias Khabbu Tiwari was placed second with 33.37 percent votes. BSP's Ashok Tiwari was third with around 19 percent votes. Incidentally, Ved Prakash Gupta, the BSP candidate this year, had contested the 2002 polls from Ayodhya on a Samajwadi Party ticket and was placed third with 24.11 percent vote share.