Union Home Minister Amit Shah offered prayers at Shri Banke Bihari Mandir in Vrindavan yesterday as part of his campaign in Mathura ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The visit is being seen in line with the BJP's efforts to project Mathura as one of the three symbolic Hindutva bastions after Ayodhya and Varanasi- at the centre of which is the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple, Lord Krishna's birthplace.
Both Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had recently said that after the temples in Ayodhya and Kashi it was Mathura's turn now for revival. Earlier, reports said that Yogi Adityanath could consider contesting from Mathura, a city he has visited 18 times during his tenure as Chief Minister, instead of Gorakhpur.
On visit to the temple site, NDTV found that the construction work of the grand entry gates on the path towards the main shrine was going on in full swing. While for some the temple makeover does hold emotional value others seek focus on Mathura's development as well.
Sitting at a teastall near the renovation area, Ramesh Tripathi, a local resident said, "After Ayodhya and Kashi it was meant to be Mathura and it is great that the sacred temple is being renovated. We will vote for BJP. But things keep getting constructed and demolished..it is unemployment that needs to be resolved. It has been getting worse over the last few years."
Another local resident Yogendra Kumar said, "The government has done good work. This whole temple pathway that you see is being built because of them.BJP will win from here."
The temple complex houses the Shahi Idgah Masjid which was built during the reign of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. Similar to the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi case, a civil suit in a Mathura court seeks the removal of the mosque. Muslims, who constitute 15-17% of the population of Mathura and are the major workforce involved in making dresses and headgears used to decorate and worship Lord Krishna, say it is the lack of development which has turned them away from BJP.
"No development is taking place. There is unemployment all around. Ever since the pandemic hit there are barely any visitors to the temples here. Who will buy all our work? Mandir-Masjid mean nothing, " Mohammad Shanu, an artisan said.
BJP's candidate from Mathura is sitting MLA and state Power Minister Shrikant Sharma who won in 2017 with a margin of over 1.4 lakh votes.
"Development is always first. We are committed to development whole-heartedly. But we also have ideological devotion. The government is of those of the 'Sanatan Dharma'. So the 'Sanatan Dharma' temple is being renovated. All other parties turned away their faces from the temple. We did not," Mr Sharma told NDTV.
Shrikant Sharma's main competitor is four- time MLA from Congress Pradeep Mathur.
He told NDTV, "The BJP has failed in carrying out any development. Their leader is never available for the public and the public is irritated. They want somebody who does 'Jansewa' (public service). They don't want a King. Krishna Janmabhoomi is only an excuse for them. It is not a public issue. The actual issues of Yamuna pollution and high electricity rates have been completely ignored. If I come to power, I will try to reduce the rates and also resolve the issue of faulty electricity meters."
Mathura has 5 assembly seats -- Mathura city, Govardhan, Chhata, Mant and Baldeo (reserved for a Scheduled Caste candidate). All five seats will poll in first phase on February 10. In 2017, BJP won 4 of these seats. Mant was the only seat that BJP lost. It went to BSP's Shyam Sundar Sharma.