The most incredible victory for the I.N.D.I.A bloc in Uttar Pradesh was the success of 78-year-old, nine-time Samajwadi party MLA Awadhesh Prasad from Faizabad, the epicentre of the Ram Mandir movement.

A popular song played at BJP’s election meetings asserted: “‘Jo Ram ko layein hain hum unko layenge’ (We will reinstate those who have brought back Ram)”.

The high decibel blitzkrieg around the consecration of the half-finished Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22 signalling the so-called “return of Ram” however, could not help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) retain the Faizabad seat, leave alone bring rich electoral dividend from across the state.

As a matter of fact, the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat, which includes the Ayodhya city, was not the only loss for the BJP. The saffron party could not win even a single seat in the Faizabad administrative division – including Ambedkar Nagar, Barabanki, Sultanpur and Amethi. While SP won Ambedkar Nagar and Sultanpur the Congress wrested Barabanki and Amethi.

Awadhesh Prasad is a Pasi Dalit leader who SP President Akhilesh Yadav had nominated on the general seat of Faizabad as part of his promotion of the PDA - ‘Pichre’ (backward) Dalit and ‘Alpsankhyak’ (minorities). Having a sizable OBC and Dalit population, the SP strategy worked to defeat the 2-time BJP MP Lallu Singh, an influential Rajput leader.

Incidentally, Singh was one of the BJP leaders who publicly spoke of the need to get 400 seats so that the Constitution could be changed. Even two road shows by PM Modi himself could not help Singh.

For the perceptible it was clear much before polling that Ayodhya was far more complex, deeply influenced by a forward-backward caste divide that had overshadowed the temple narrative.

It was clear for those who wanted to see that I.N.D.I.A bloc’s PDA had taken the wind out of the sails of the Ram Mandir buildup. The social justice plank of the I.N.D.I.A bloc has turned the narrative from ‘Ram’ to ‘Samvidhan’.

The approximate caste composition in Faizabad favoured I.N.D.I.A bloc’s Pasi candidate. There are 26 percent Dalits (Rawat,Chamar,Kori), 14 percent Muslims, 12 percent Kurmi, 12 percent Yadav, 12 percent Brahmin, 6 percent Rajpur, 4 percent Vaish, 5 percent Kewat/Mallah/Nisha and 12 percent other OBC. This experiment of Akhilesh Yadav to broaden his social base beyond M-Ypaid him rich dividends in Ayodhya.

The ‘kamandal’ could not withstand the reworked Mandal of Akhilesh Yadav. Hectic campaigning by various caste-based NDA allies like Anupriya Patel, Sanjay Nishad, and Om Prakash Rajbhar did not help.

Keeping the divisive narrative alive Chief Minister Adityanath in Ayodhya had alleged that “the Congress led I.N.D.I.A alliance would re-impose jaziya if elected to power”.

Faizabad Lok Sabha has an interesting history. At the height of the Mandir movement in 1989 it elected a Communist Party of India leader Mitrasen Yadav who had defeated Congress party’s Nirmal Khatri. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had come a distant third and BJP was not even in the race.

In 1989 Lok Sabha polls when the BJP was making rapid gains at the height of the Ram Mandir movement aimed at building the Ram temple at the site of the still standing Babri Masjid, Yadav had changed the divisive narrative by winning the Faizabad seat at the heart of the dispute.

The religious polarisation following L. K. Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in 1990 impacted the political scenario in Faizabad as well. In 1991 the rabid Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar defeated Mitrasen Yadav.

In 1992 the frenzy around the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the riots that followed ensured the return of Katiyar, to win the Faizabad seat once again in 1996, a feat which he repeated in 1999. He along with the top BJP leadership was an accused in the Babri demolition case.

When the ‘India Shining’ bubble burst in 2004 it brought back Mitrasen Yadav once again as the MP from Faizabad, this time on the Bahujan Samaj Party ticket. Yadav had defeated Lallu Singh from BJP, who has now been defeated by Awadhesh Prasad after winning two consecutive terms in 2014 and 2019. In between Congress party’s Nirmal Khatri had won the Faizabad seat in 2009 when the Congress picked up a whopping 21 seats across Uttar Pradesh.

The seat which came into existence in 1957 has been won by the Congress seven times, the BJP four times and Bhartiya Lok Dal, BSP, SP and CPI once each. Awadhesh Prasad has prevented Lallu Singh from winning a hat trick in this seat.

The inauguration of the temple was preceded by Rs. 35,000 crore worth of development and beautification projects in Ayodhya including the up- gradation of the railway station, construction of hotels and even an international airport which now has virtually no running flights as there is hardly any load.

For outsiders Ayodhya is synonymous with the Ram Mandir movement and the locals should have been paid back for this largess by voting for the BJP. The consecration of the Ram Temple in January 2024 was being projected as the turning point in the saffron party’s history which was to leave its footprints across the nation.

However, local issues have sabotaged the Hindutva Rath here. The pent up anger of a large section of people who suffered in silence as they were deprived of their assets found expression through the ballot.

The Ayodhya beautification project is believed to have demolished approximately 2200 shops, 800 houses, 30 temples, nine mosques and six mazars. For the fear of the government and in the name of Ram people gave up their lands without getting adequate compensation.

Those who complained suffered the terror of the administration. However, they did react to the arm twisting at the first given opportunity.

Locals complain that their lives have become hell due to the everyday traffic restrictions caused by the constant VVIP movements ever since the Ram Mandir has been inaugurated.

From crowds of ‘shradhalus’ (pilgrims) who earlier came unnoticed, paid their obeisance and left there are now high profile visitors – the President, governors, ministers and five star religious tourists. They hardly patronise local businesses as they visit the malls and high-end eateries that have come up in the name of beautification and are run by outsiders, mainly Gujaratis.

Locals have not only suffered in terms of their businesses but their lives have been disrupted.

On the other hand, I.N.D.I.A bloc caught the popular imagination by their guarantee to save the Constitution and promise to address the day to day issues of survival faced by the most marginalised: rampant unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, menace of stray animals, inequity, discrimination and violence on the basis of caste and religion. Most importantly they had got the caste arithmetic right.

In Ayodhya the political gains of the Ram Mandir movement appears to have been thrown into the dustbin of history.