Modi set to open temple built at site of mosque razed by Hindu zealots
Time:2024-01-20 13:34


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate a temple that embodies the triumph of his muscular Hindu nationalist politics, in an unofficial start to his re-election campaign this year.

The 50-metre (160-foot) tall house of worship for the deity Ram, which will be opened on Monday, was built on grounds where a mosque stood for centuries before it was torn down by Hindu zealots incited by members of Modi's party.

That demolition in 1992 triggered the worst religious riots since independence—killing 2,000 people, most of them Muslims—and shook the foundations of India's officially secular political order.

But for Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the opening of the Ram Mandir temple in the northern town of Ayodhya is a landmark moment in a decades-long campaign to align the country's governance with its majority faith.

"I am fortunate that I will also be a witness to this auspicious occasion," Modi said last week, announcing he was embarking on an 11-day ritual fast ahead of the opening.

"The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India."

Effort 'to bring Hinduism to forefront'

Thousands of people are expected to throng Ayodhya for the ceremony alongside celebrity guests including billionaire Indian tycoons, former national cricket captain Virat Kohli and Bollywood titan Amitabh Bachchan.

Modi and the BJP have sought to bring the Hindu faith to the forefront of public life since sweeping to power a decade ago.

Party luminaries regularly condemn earlier eras of Islamic rule over parts of India as a time of "slavery" when their own religion was oppressed, with Ayodhya a key plank in their narrative.

Devout Hindus believe Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods, was born in the town more than 7,000 years ago, but that the Babri mosque was built over his birthplace by a 16th-century Muslim emperor.

The BJP played an instrumental role in public campaigning that eventually led to the mosque's demolition.

One party elder travelled around the country to rally the faithful to the cause in a Toyota sedan fitted to resemble Ram's mythical chariot -- a procession that sparked multiple religious riots in its wake.

The destruction presaged the rise of the BJP and Modi as unstoppable electoral juggernauts, displacing the secularist Congress party that had governed India almost without interruption since independence from British colonial rule.

Political timing ahead of general election expected in April

A legion of sculptors has been working to finish the embossed exterior of the temple, whose construction has cost an estimated $240 million that the project's backers say was sourced entirely from public donations.

Modi's consecration of the temple alongside saffron-robed Hindu priests will again project him as a defender of the faith, at an opportune moment ahead of a general election expected to begin in April.

The BJP is heavily favoured to win a third successive landslide victory, in part because of Modi's successful appeals to Hindu sentiment, and opposition parties are boycotting the temple ceremony, saying the event will be a thinly veiled campaign rally.

Nistula Hebbar, political editor of The Hindu broadsheet, told AFP the opening would demonstrate the ruling party's "cultural nationalism". "The timing has to do with the fact that the BJP is going into the polls."


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