On November 6, the BJP-run Uttar Pradesh State Government renamed the district of Faizabad as Ayodhya. With 85% of the district population being Hindusthe populist move by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was seen as a strategy to retain the Hindu vote against four-time Chief Minister Mayawati and a rejuvenated Congress at next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
In the heart of the district sits Ayodhya, which is the epicentre of a long standing dispute between the Hindus and Muslims of India. Believed to be the birth place of Lord Ram by the Hindus it saw growing tensions between the two communities ever since the 16th century Mogul Emperor Babur put up a mosque in the place believed to be the birth site of Ram.
The massive mosque, known as Babri Masjid, was demolished in 1992 by Hindu nationalist groups led by the BJP, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). It was said that the mosque was built by destroying a Hindu temple. Today, Chief Minister Adityanath vows to build a temple for Ram in the site soon.
The renaming Faizabad as Ayodhya, however, is not welcomed by all Hindus. There’s a section that believes that it was totally unnecessary and politically motivated. On the other hand, the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh feel marginalized ever since Adityanath took office owing to the slew of strong pro-Hindu, populist moves he has made since last year’s election.
Meanwhile, the President of the National Commission for Minorities which is the national body for minorities feels building Ram Temple will settle the centuries’ long dispute and at least thereafter the Muslims in the country would be able live without fear.
“Hindus must be allowed to build Ram Temple so that Muslims can live peacefully, respectfully and without fear…” its President Hasan Rizvi told media recently. However, building the Hindu Temple is not going to be as easy as everyone thinks.
The archaeological Survey excavations carried out in the disputed site in the 2000-2003 period following court orders in view of the dispute, have not found single evidence of an ancient Hindu temple there. Instead, mass evidence was found pointing to the existence of a Buddhist centre with ruins of stupas and Buddhist style pillars and structures.
Buddhists have long been insisting that the site was a Buddhist place of worship. The city of Ayodhya, known as Saket during Buddha’s time, according to literature and inscriptions, had been a major centre of Buddhism.
Excavations carried out in the 19th century by the British historian and the founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Alexander Cunningham, too had found Buddhist artefacts and ruins in and around the place. In March this year, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by a Buddhist insisting that authorities should go by archaeological evidence and do justice to Buddhists if ever any action was to be taken as regards the site. In July, a writ application was filed by a Buddhist petitioner claiming the Buddhist right to the site and the bench agreed to admit it.
A few days back a BJP member of the Legislative Council Savitribai Phule too demanded that a Buddhist Statue be erected in the site as archaeological evidence proves it to be a Buddhist site.
Meanwhile, last month the BJP-run UP government moved to rename Allahabad as Prayagraj and now wants Agra the home of Taj Mahal to be called Agarwal as the name Agra was given to it by a 16th century Moghul ruler Sultan Sikandar Lodi. Following Chief Minister Adityanath’s footsteps Vijaya Rupani, the Chief Minister of PM Narendra Modi’s home base, Gujarat, last week announced he would rename state capital Ahmadabad as Karnavati. With 84% of its population being Hindu Ahmadabad, popularly known as the city of temples, is believed to have 568 Hindu temples in the city.
According to opinion polls despite a few setbacks at recent polls the BJP still has a fairly good hold on the Hindus who form 80% of the country’s population much to the discomfit of the Muslims who make up 14% of the nation. However, now that the Muslim claim for Ayodhya is being weakened one wonders whether the Hindus will meet a new rival in their claim for Ayodhya with Buddhists putting forward a stronger claim.