'Outsiders don't want peace in Ayodhya. There are no issues between the two communities here'
Muslims have been stitching clothes for Lord Ram's idols, while Hindu artisans and labourers are helping in renovation of a mosque. Residents of Ayodhya insist there is no tension between the two communities in the city and both azaans and bhajans co-exist
Manish Mishra 24 May 2019 11:15 AM GMT
Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
Far away from the political podiums by which thundering speeches were venting fire around Ayodhya - and alternately proclaiming that either Hinduism or Islam was in danger – tailor Babu Khan ordered tea for the visiting journalists, and sat back relaxed on his cushioned seat.
"There are no fights here. The Babri Masjid demolition issue is unnecessarily being dragged. There is no religious dispute here in Ayodhya," said Khan on a recent afternoon during the national election campaign.
The verdict is out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is back with a thumping majority. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party managed to win 302 of the total 542 seats in the 2019 General Elections.
The BJP, in its manifesto, released in April, stressed on many things. A key undercurrent of its campaign has been the construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The party said the temple would be built within constitutional parameters.
Residents of Ayodhya, however, say they are done with the mandir-masjid issue.
Not too far away from his shop in the premise of a mosque under construction, Shailendra Mani Pandey said: "The political parties don't want peace to prevail in Ayodhya. There are no issues between the two communities here. We want this feeling of brotherhood to stay forever."
Outside Ayodhya, in political rallies around the country, Hindu nationalist politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP invoked Ayodhya, promising they would finish the unfinished task of building a Ram temple in the city – considered the birthplace of Ram, the most revered Hindu god. Opposition parties accused BJP of using the same Ayodhya to stoke Hindu-Muslim tension and divide the country.
"There are no jobs here, there are no factories or industries here. We want industrial development here. We want educational development," said Pandey, sitting on a chair at the mosque site, barely a kilometre from the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi site.
How the mosque got built is a story in itself.
The land on which the new mosque is being constructed is handed over to the Muslim community by Mahant Gyaan Das. Those from the Muslim community collected funds to get the mosque constructed. The artisans and labourers being hired belong to the Hindu community.
Khan, who is associated with the Muslim Welfare Society, is leading the effort to build the new mosque.
"The previous structure was a dilapidated one. When the district administration sent a notice to Mahant Gyaan Das asking him to demolish the structure, he called me and requested me to reconstruct the mosque," said Khan. "He even said he would help me financially."
However, some from within the Muslim community objected to a Hindu donating funds for a mosque. "The mahant then requested us not to fight and take financial help from the Muslims to build the mosque. It's been three years since and we are rebuilding it," Khan added.
The issue was settled amicably.
It was time for azaan. A few devotees opposite the under-construction mosque were playing bhajans.
People living in a city that probably has the potential to swing the outcome of any elections are not even bothered about the importance it holds among politicians. Residents say they want basic conveniences, and jobs.
The town's economy gets an upswing every year from three religious melas – huge religious fairs where tens of thousands attend. There is little else by way of earnings apart from the service industry for the hundreds of thousands of devotees who come here round the year, but residents say that is not enough.
"We are not born as Hindus or Muslims. We are born as human beings. We want education for our children, jobs for youngsters. That's all that we want," said Jagdamba Sharan Tiwari, 84, who was sitting in the premises of the under-construction Mosque.
The atmosphere of hatred around Ayodhya was created after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Political parties ensured that the issue around the city continues to be a ticking time bomb. The rival claims for the holy site are now in court and the Supreme Court has to take a decision.
Ayodhya, one of the holiest cities in India, became an "issue" in 1989 when then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi started his political campaigning from Ayodhya and promised 'Ramrajya' for all if his Congress came to power. It didn't help the party's prospects much, but gave parties like the BJP and the VHP an opportunity to give a fillip to their movement to build a Ram temple. The demolition also helped in projecting leaders like Lal Krishna Advani and Uma Bharti as faces of Hindutva and the BJP eventually catapulted to 182 seats in Parliament in 1998 from just two seats in 1984.
The BJP in its 2019 election manifesto promised to build the Ram Mandir within constitutional parameters. But the people of Ayodhya say they are beyond the mandir-masjid issue now.
"People living here don't want any disputes. The economy here is based purely on the melas (fairs) that are organised. In case of disturbances, pilgrims stop coming here. It affects our everyday bread and butter. Half the city resembles a garrison anyway," said Pandey.
Most of the shopkeepers here sell pooja paraphernalia. Shops run by the Muslims have Hindu customers whereas those run by the Hindus have Muslim customers.
Khan, who runs a tailoring shop, has also been stitching clothes for Ram Lalla's idols. "This is a conspiracy by politicians to malign the image of Ayodhya. Outsiders come and rob the city of its peace," he said.
He added: "These days orange-coloured kurtas are in great demand."
Edited by: Swati Subhedar