“Send to everyone in your list. Shame on all 90 Cr Hindus. Ayodhya Ram mandir Babri masjid online voting is going on. Supreme court of India have left the decision to the citizens, But till now there are more votes for Babri masjid. So kindly all Hindus vote for Rammandir to be built in Ayodhya.”
A Hindi version of this WhatsApp message, complete with a voting link, made Sachin Agarwal’s phone beep one May morning in 2018. The 30-year-old Faizabad (now Shri Ayodhya) resident read it many times over before he pressed ‘delete’.
Later that evening, at a routine meeting of a local traders’ association, he discovered that the same message had reached many in the town. Like Agarwal, who lives and works with his businessman elder brother, most of his friends and acquaintances chose to delete the message. It was another matter that the link was a fake one — as reported in several news publications.
More than seven months later, the same WhatsApp message has resurfaced. With the cry for Ram Mandir growing louder, the timing seems a calculated affair. However, in Ayodhya, less than 7 km from Faizabad, this appeal for votes has evoked little response or interest.
The town is quietly contemplating the burden the upcoming Lok Sabha elections have placed on its shoulders. It is the plank that might decide the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre. But no one can say what it will get in return.
At the centre of communal and polarisation politics since the 1980s, Ayodhya has lost more to the demand of a Ram Mandir than it can recover. From the time the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) started a movement for the building of the temple, with the aggressive support of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Ayodhya has tried in vain to emerge as anything but a disputed site that divides religious communities.
In December 1992, the town watched in silent trepidation as lakhs of saffron-clad kar sevaks trooped in. And when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, Ayodhya looked as helpless as the police cordon that failed to control the mob at the site. The countrywide riots that followed hit home hard. The name of the town became synonymous with communal strife, despite the fact that Ayodhya hasn’t really voted for religion over development.