As parties start consolidating their strategy for the Uttar Pradesh election, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a major challenge could lie in tamping down the talk with hardliners in the BJP and its affiliates over Ayodhya.

In 1992, the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque, was torn down by thousands of volunteers for right-wing parties, demanding the construction of a temple for Lord Ram, who was born in Ayodhya.

The Prime Minister's Office has reportedly said it wants the temple issue kept completely out of electioneering; the campaign for Uttar Pradesh is to focus instead on his commitment to development.

Source: b'Tools used to carve out stones that Hindu nationalist group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) say will be used to build a Ram temple at the disputed religious site | Reuters'

Critics say Ayodhya tests PM Modi's ability to navigate a tension central to his administration: appeasing Hindu nationalist activists who corral votes for the BJP while preventing them from derailing his pro-business growth agenda.

On a recent visit to Ayodhya, the words of the BJP's state chief in Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, sometimes jarred with his actions. As sweat streamed over the saffron-coloured tilak on his forehead, he smiled at reporters and described the BJP's electoral strategy: emphasize development, expose corruption.

Asked about demands to build the Hindu temple, he said the courts should decide. "We respect every institution of democracy," Mr Maurya said.

Yet he had spent much of the day in the company of men who cheer the mosque's demise, and are increasingly restless to raise a temple in its place.

His convoy of white sports utility vehicles had pulled into Ayodhya so that he could celebrate the birthday of Nritya Gopal Das, the elderly, influential monk leading the Ayodhya temple campaign.

That morning, Mr Maurya folded his hands in supplication and awaited blessings from the monk.

Source: b'A general view shows a workshop where stones that Hindu nationalist group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) say will be used to build a Ram temple at the disputed religious site | Reuters\xc2\xa0'

"I think Modi wants to win the UP (Uttar Pradesh) election by whatever means," said Ramachandra Guha, a historian who has written about the significance of the temple in Ayodhya as a galvanizing issue for the various factions of the Hindu right, including the BJP.

But, he said, there is a catch. "(PM) Modi, given his intelligence, knows that constructing the temple will be disastrous for his image." Instead, Mr Guha said he expects the BJP to "finesse the question" with proxy issues.

That may include clamping down further on cow slaughter, for example. Critics say such concerns are signals to the Hindu majority that the nation is for them, not minorities Muslims and Christians.

Mohammad Hashim Ansari, 96, remembers the December morning in 1992 when the mobs swarmed the Babri Mosque; he could see its three domes crumpling from his small alleyway home in a Muslim quarter of Ayodhya.

He is the oldest litigant in a case seeking to preserve a Muslim claim on the land. "I don't want the temple to be made, but they have a plan for building it. They've taken over the government, they're in power. They can do whatever they want," he said.

During the festivities marking his 78th birthday in June, Mr Das convened a private meeting with some of the country's most influential Hindu religious leaders.

His message, according to a person present, was that religious and political discourse on the subject of the temple should not be separated. Every monk in every city, Mr Das was quoted as saying, should be talking about the importance of the Ram temple.

The BJP's parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), lobbied successfully for a Rajya Sabha seat this April for firebrand politician Subramanian Swamy.

Source: b'File photo of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy addresses a seminar on the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, at Delhi University | PTI'

Less than two weeks later, Mr Swamy informed parliament that he had a point of order to raise. Amid cries of disbelief, Mr Swamy rose from his seat and voiced frustration that the nation's attorney general had not done more to get a court verdict on the temple in Ayodhya.

It was a campaign of public insults led by Mr Swamy that that helped push the highly respected head of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, to announce last month that he was stepping down, a shock move that disappointed foreign investors.

Down the road from the contested site, now ringed with guard towers and troops, masons hunched over long pieces of sandstone, slowly etching out floral designs for what organisers say will be building blocks of the new temple.

Gesturing to the hundreds of pieces stacked high around him, Sharad Sharma, a spokesman for the hardline Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), said that day might come sooner than people expect.

"Now, under (PM) Modi's leadership, we feel that this is the right time," Mr Sharma said.

(Feature image source: PTI)