Uttar Pradesh lawmakers’ Ayodhya darshan laced with faith, fervour and politics

This was the first such joint visit by lawmakers to the temple town, brimming with pilgrims since the January 22 inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath with lawmakers at the Ram temple in Ayodhya on Sunday. (ANI PHOTO)

Faith and fervour intermingled with politics as Uttar Pradesh lawmakers, cutting across party lines barring the Samajwadi Party, sat in 10 luxury buses that played soft “Ram Dhun” to arrive in Ayodhya for a darshan of Ram Lalla on Sunday.

This was the first such joint visit by lawmakers to the temple town, brimming with pilgrims since the January 22 inauguration of the Ram temple. More politicians, including prominent opposition names, are expected here in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, in which the “Ram temple” is likely to be among the BJP’s major campaign themes. Delhi and Punjab chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann will visit Ram temple on Monday.

While all other opposition lawmakers – including those from the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and even Rashtriya Lok Dal (though final, a formal announcement of it joining the NDA is still awaited) — hopped on to the buses packed by MLAs of the BJP and its allies, the Samajwadi Party remained an exception, having announced that its legislators would visit the temple separately, a move that provided the BJP ready political fodder.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who joined his ministers and all lawmakers as he landed directly from Pune to be part of the Ayodhya trip, also shared a video in which lawmakers, including assembly speaker Satish Mahana, were seen singing and swaying to the tunes of the devotional song, “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram.” Politics resumed soon after the “divine temple experience” as BJP lawmakers targeted the Samajwadi Party leadership over its decision to stay away from the joint temple visit.

“Mainey Bhagwan Ram se prarthana ki sapa samaptwadi party ho jaaye kyunki jo Ram ka nahin wo kisi kaam ka nahin (I prayed to Lord Ram to finish SP politically as one who can’t be of Ram is good for nothing),” said deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya before he left for Lucknow after the darshan. Deputy CM Brajesh Pathak felt it was a classic case of minority appeasement.

Another minister JPS Rathore recalled the Ayodhya firing in the 1990s when the then SP government under Mulayam Singh Yadav was in power, a decision that saw the Vishwa Hindu Parishad dubbing the then chief minister “Mullah Mulayam”. Though the SP’s 2012 win in Ayodhya in the assembly polls made Mulayam remark “Ayodhya has forgiven me”, the BJP has consistently invoked the firing on “karsevaks” as proof of “SP’s minority appeasement.”

“What else can you expect from those whose hands are soiled in blood? They will take time to atone for their sins,” Rathore said.

An emotional U.P. assembly speaker Satish Mahana also referred to the firing. “For me it is an emotional moment as I was in Ayodhya when a ‘dhancha (structure)’ stood in place of the temple. I was also there during the 1990 firing. I was here when construction started. Now, it’s a divine experience to be able to watch Ram Lalla in all glory,” Mahana said.

Almost all other lawmakers, who emerged after their temple visit, were routinely asked by waiting electronic media contingents to comment on SP’s decision to stay away. Almost all of them happily engaged in hitting out at the main opposition party, which has traditionally relied on its “MY or Muslim-Yadav” chemistry for poll gains. In the 2022 U.P. assembly polls, the BJP coined its own “MY” formula – one that that stood for Modi-Yogi combine to prevail over the opposition.

Before politics started flowing outside, chief minister Yogi Adityanath and assembly speaker Satish Mahana who had invited the lawmakers for the trip, prayed along with lawmakers. The leaders clapped as devotional hymns were played as Adityanath was also seen guiding pilgrims who were allowed darshan despite the VIP visit.

The decision to allow pilgrims inside Ram temple during the VIP visit was ostensibly made to streamline pilgrim flow as was the decision by the lawmakers to forego the tradition of visiting the Hanumangarhi shrine ahead of Ram temple visit as the temple was choc-a-bloc with devotees.

Just before the ministers arrived, Champat Rai, the general secretary of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, was spotted telling a group of priests from Delhi that darshan had been allowed for 14 hours to streamline pilgrim flow.

The SP decided to abstain from the temple visit even though veteran lawmaker Shivpal Yadav was the first of opposition legislators to demand that the speaker should arrange a joint Ayodhya visit of the legislators. He then backed out of the February 11 temple visit, stating that his request was for January 22 inauguration. “Now, we would visit separately,” Yadav said.

Congress lawmaker Aradhana Misra ‘Mona’ was part of the temple delegation as was BSP’s lone MLA Uma Shankar Singh.

The RLD’s nine lawmakers were all there as well, a decision that not only showcased their religious zeal but also indicated their growing proximity to the BJP.

The Congress, which had on the eve of the temple visit expelled its leader Pramod Krishnam, the head of the Kalki Dham in Sambhal, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath would visit on February 19, was quick to indicate that Ram was for all.

“We came here as we are all for Ram and then this wasn’t a BJP invite but one from the assembly speaker, who represents all,” said Aradhana Mishra who also sought to defend the SP. “I think one can visit temple whenever they find it right,” she added.

The BJP’s OBC allies, including leaders of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Nishad Party and Apna Dal (S), were in full attendance as was Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik) chief Raghuraj Pratap Singh “Raja Bhaiya”.

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