“We need Ayodhya to be a success. We need companies to come and invest, we need factories, technical colleges, institutes and jobs here so people don’t leave,” said Yadav. He said he voted for the BJP in 2019 because it promised to build the temple, and “now we need more.”

Under grey skies, construction cranes towered over laborers building a mega three-story temple demanded by millions of Hindus for over 100 years. The shrine is dedicated to their most revered god, Ram, and is being built on a plot of land where a 16th-century mosque stood, before a Hindu mob tore it down in 1992.

It’s one of several frenetic constructions — massive roads, hotels and a swanky new railway station — underway in Ayodhya, a dusty, holy city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking reelection by touting Hindu-first politics coupled with economic prosperity.

This was the first sign of progress Manish Yadav, a 25-year-old student, had seen in this once-sleepy city.

Modi’s BJP has won emphatically twice on the national stage. But the state polls in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous with over 230 million people – are crucial, a barometer of the party’s popularity ahead of general elections in 2024. Over 150 million people will vote in the state across seven phases starting Thursday before results are declared in March. Four other states will also vote in February and March — the BJP is fighting to retain power in all but one.

© Copyright LaPresse