Senior Uttar Pradesh Congress leader and Faizabad candidate Nirmal Khatri on Thursday claimed that the Ayodhya dispute was no longer an election plank in the Lok Sabha election and said the BJP was distancing itself from the issue.
The former state Congress chief also hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his first Ayodhya visit in five years. "The issue of construction of a temple of Lord Ram seems to have vanished from the electoral landscape.
The issue of Ram temple for the past few elections had no longer been an issue for the voters of Faizabad," Khatri told PTI in an interview. The 68-year-old underscored that had the Ayodhya issue been relevant, then he would not have won in 2009 from Faizabad, where the temple town is located.
Khatri said the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue only existed in the national media and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2014 election not due to it. "People of Faizabad understand that politics is being done in the garb of this issue and the intention of the BJP is not right. Hence, this issue is no longer an issue," Khatri said.
"When those (BJP) who had nurtured this issue as an issue have distanced themselves from this issue, then a message has automatically gone." The former Faizabad MP alleged that Modi did not get time to come to Ayodhya in five years. "Now, why is he raising that slogan (Jai Shri Ram)? Do you think that the public is fool?" he asked. Modi had addressed a rally in Gosaiganj, about 25 km from Ayodhya, on Wednesday, where he reportedly raised the slogan of "Jai Shri Ram".
The holy town has been central to the BJP and the Hindutva affiliates' agitation for a Ram temple at what the faithfuls believe to be the birth place of Lord Ram. The Supreme Court had recently appointed mediators to find an amicable solution to the dispute over the 2.77 acre plot, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished by the 'karsevaks' on December 6, 1992. Khatri claimed that the Congress was more nationalistic than the BJP.
"Our leaders, Indira ji (Indira Gandhi) and Rajiv ji (Rajiv Gandhi), had sacrificed their lives for the country and not for their personal property," he said. The Congress leader accused Modi of trying to divert the attention of the public as he had "no issues" left with him to raise. "How can a political party dissociate from nationalism? We are much more nationalistic than Modi and the BJP is not the custodian of nationalism," Khatri asked.
On the row over the citizenship of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the former state minister accused the BJP of disseminating false information, saying there was not an "iota of substance" on the allegations. Khatri said the entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, had raised the morale of the party workers in the state.
Asked about Vadra not contesting from Modi's constituency of Varanasi, Khatri said: "She (Vadra) is a leader of national stature and is from a family on which there is the 'daaromdaar' (responsibility) of the Congress party. I think she has given more priority to campaign for other party candidates than her own personal (electoral) contest." He exuded confidence that the Congress would perform well in the Lok Sabha election and improve its tally in the state.
"As far as seats around Faizabad are concerned, there are a few seats (Basti, Shrawasti, Barabanki and Sultanpur) where the party is putting up a good show and they will give positive results for the party," Khatri said.
The Congress leader said the major issue in the election are jobs and pointed out that there were problems of sewage in the constituency. "This city (Faizabad) lies in the middle of three prominent UP cities -- Lucknow, Allahabad and Varanasi -- and, hence, it has not been able to grow from the business point of view," he observed.
"Work on a medical college started during my tenure as MP, but it is progressing at very slow pace. People rush to Lucknow in case of any accident. The trauma centre here is facing shortage of doctors," Khatri said. He alleged that the ruling BJP government, led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, had only made announcements worth crores for the development of Ayodhya, saying the projects were yet to be implemented.
"Only foundation stones have been laid, but there have been no progress," he added. Khatri is contesting against Lallu Singh of the BJP and Anand Sen of the Samajwadi Party, which is in an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Faizabad votes next Monday.