At a small shop near the disputed temple site in Ayodhya, two security personnel sit relaxed on the porch, sipping their cups of tea. “Everything is normal here. This is the usual calm in Ayodhya,” says one of them, not wishing to be named.
In Uttar Pradesh, where politics and important topics are vigorously discussed at chai-dukaans (tea-shops) on a daily basis, the atmosphere here, on the eve of the VHP’s yatra, comes as a surprise. Besides a mention or two, the yatra did not figure much in conversations. The locals rubbished comparisons with the 2010 situation when the Allahabad High Court was to deliver its verdict on the dispute. They were keen on stocking up essentials in anticipation of a curfew.
The disruption of normal life and business figured high on the grievance list of locals and visitors alike. Devi Kumar, a pilgrim from Nepal who had just arrived with his family looked worried as he headed towards the bus-station. “We are leaving. We did not know about the situation. Will we get a bus to Gorakhpur? he asked.
Traders expressed frustration over the poor sales recorded in the recent Sawaan Mela due to fewer footfalls.
“Around 25,000 locals and 20,000 outsiders usually arrive here for the mela each day,” says trade body president Nandu Gupta said.
“But since the neighbouring districts were blocked, people could not come. The Uttarakhand disaster had already ruined our business as pilgrims come here after visiting Kedarnath. But this has been the case several times in the past 20 years.”
He criticised the VHP for “trying to milk the issue for political gains” with the elections coming up.
“The tussle between the VHP and the State has affected business and brought it to the brink,” he said.
However, by and large, contrary to reports, the sleepy, temple town presented a picture of calm, though with hints of uneasiness. “The parikrama happens every year. It’s normal. Only this time the parties have politicised it so much that we don’t know if there will be a curfew or not,” said Raju, a rickshaw-puller. Bhajans and aartis reverberated across the various mutts and akharas like usual. At Karsevakpuram, the workshop where stone carvings for the grand temple are kept, things went by at the usual slow pace.
However, Yugal Kishore Shastri, the former VHP secretary and mahant of the ‘Ram Janki Temple,’ close to the disputed site, said the yatra was a threat to the composite culture of the town. “There is no support for the VHP’s movement in Ayodhya. The people have understood the motives of these organisations. This is 2013, not 1992.” he said.
“This is an attempt to rejuvenate the BJP’s lost votebank in the area. Without local support, their Mandir politics will not work,” he said.
Devta Prasad, 52, runs a small eatery on the Gonda-Faizabad border. His shop was deserted as there was a roadblock formed hardly 50 metres away. “The vehicles are not being allowed to come. Usually this place bustles with customers at this time,” he regretted.