Ground report: For Modi supporters, rising unemployment, inflation a non-issue; construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya is BJP govt’s biggest achievement

Devanshi Batra,

New Delhi: As the national capital goes to polls on May 25, the sixth phase of ongoing Lok Sabha elections 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a public meeting in northeast Delhi on May 18, repeating the rhetoric of the Ram Mandir’s Pran Pratistha (consecration) ceremony in Ayodhya and INDIA alliance’s manifesto being being inspired by the Muslim League.

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Those who attended the rally believe that much has improved and “numerous development works” have been undertaken in the past 10 years. When asked about the key developmental issue influencing their votes in this election, the overwhelming majority highlighted the construction of the Ram temple as their primary concern and the most important issue guiding their decision.

When the conversation was shifted towards other pressing issues such as unemployment, religious polarization, inflation and basic civic problems, the supporters either dismissed these concerns or justified why the Ram temple took precedence.

“No government could have done what Modi ji has done. He ensured a grand Ram temple was built in Ayodhya — a task which was unimaginable. He got the temple constructed and brought back our God home. What can be more important than that?” said 65-year-old Manoj Sharma.

On December 6, 1992, 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya was razed to the ground by a Hindutva mob.

Hindu supremacist Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has previously stated that the reconstruction of the temple will symbolize “cultural, spiritual and social unity.” However, critics argue that it has exacerbated tensions between Hindus and Muslims, further undermining India’s secular traditions.

“What will you do if there is no God? They (Muslims) will keep on destroying our temples. This is the only government, which values our religion and ‘Sanatan Dharma’ (eternal religion). We will vote only on the issue of Ram Mandir because that’s the Modi government’s biggest achievement,” said Anil Kumar, 38.

“In today’s time, Hindus exist because of Modi. He brought our lord back home. Lord Ram was on streets when the Congress was in power. We don’t want anything else. This is of utmost importance for us,” says 45-year-old Rajni Sahni.

According to a research by the World Inequality Lab, by the conclusion of last year, India’s wealthiest individuals possessed 40.1% of the country’s wealth, the highest figure since 1961, and their portion of total income stood at 22.6%, the highest since 1922. However, the rally attendees completely dismissed the issue of poverty and unemployment.

“Jo Ram ko laaye hain, hum unko layenge (We will elect those to power who have brought back our lord — a slogan coined by the BJP ahead of the elections). It’s simple; everyone can see development; Modi has eradicated poverty. Youngsters are getting jobs. The ‘bhavya’ (grand) Ram temple has been constructed, and Modi has made all Hindus happy. Our PM is our pride,” said Pooja Sharma, 55.

When asked about rising unemployment, she dismissed even accepting it as an issue. For her, “dharma” (religion) comes first.

“There are other important issues than unemployment. ‘Dharma’ comes first. Also, there is no unemployment. On the contrary, during Modi’s rule, youngsters have got jobs, and employment has risen. Modi is a messiah for Hindus, and no other party values our religion. If they come to power, our lord will be on the streets again,” said 60-year-old Kishor, who appeared to be convinced by the BJP’s propaganda that if Congress comes to power, it will overturn the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Mosque title dispute and lock the temple in Ayodhya.

According to Reuters, retail inflation in 2022-23 rose to 6.7% from 5.5% in 2021-22 and 6.2% the year ago. Annual retail inflation was 5.09% in February.

The unemployment rate increased to 8% in February, according to the privately-held Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

When asked about the same, Yogendra Kumar, 70, said, “Modi will address it all in the coming years. He has resolved the most important issue (the construction of Ram temple). Not just Ayodhya, now Modi will construct temples in Kashi (Varanasi) and Mathura also. That’s the issue we will vote on in this election.”

He too reiterated Modi brought back Lord Ram. For him, everything, be it skyrocketing inflation or unemployment, is a secondary issue. “Every issue is secondary. There is nothing bad in this country, we have everything. ‘Dharma hai to sab kuch hai’ (if religion is safe, everything is safe). By constructing the temple, Modi has proved that Hindu religion is in safe hands. What more development do you want? asked 28-year-old Rahul Mishra.

For his supporters, Modi’s machismo is not only restricted to the Ram temple. They credit him for bringing the controversial legislation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA — which grants Indian nationality based on religion. The law grants nationality to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled religious persecution in Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before December 31, 2014.

The prime minister had also been accused of anti-Muslim hate speech during his recent rallies. Amid these issues, the secular fabric of the nation has been under question.

Though the attendees of the northeast Delhi rally appeared more focused on the temple’s construction than on developmental issues, there were few who also counted the contentious Act and abrogation of the Article 370 as the BJP’s achievement.

All seven parliamentary constituencies in Delhi will go to polls on Saturday. Security has been beefed up and preparations made in polling booths across the capital to ensure the voting exercise is completed smoothly.