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May 27, 2024

Grand Opening of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya Amid Tensions

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Jan 21, 2024

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi today presided over the inauguration of a Hindu temple built on the site of a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu rioters in 1992, an event that set off waves of sectarian violence. The opening of the temple dedicated to the god Ram is a major victory for Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but has raised anxieties among the country’s Muslim minority.

Temple Opening Culminates Decades-Long Hindu Nationalist Campaign

The inauguration event in the northern town of Ayodhya is the culmination of a decades-long campaign by Hindu nationalist organizations to build a temple on the site of the Babri Masjid mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 during a political rally.

The Supreme Court handed the disputed site to Hindus in 2019, while Muslims were given another plot of land to build a new mosque. The building of the temple, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of Hindus this year, took over two years and cost over $25 million.

Modi laid the first brick at the temple construction site in 2020. He now returns to open the temple ahead of key state elections in 2024 that will lay the foundation for the 2024 general election in which he seeks a third term in office.

“This temple will symbolize India as a strong, prosperous and accountable nation,” said Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the powerful right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of Modi’s party. “It will inspire generations to come.”

A heavy security presence is in place throughout Ayodhya town and surrounding areas to prevent any communal trouble.

Anxiety Among Muslims Over Temple Symbolizing Hindu Dominance

The building of the temple on the ruins of the demolished mosque has distressed India’s 200 million Muslims who see it as a sign of their political and social marginalization.

Many Muslims fear that the overt display of Hindu primacy embodied by the new temple could further erode their rights as a religious minority, and some Muslim leaders have asked Islamic preachers across India to focus sermons this Friday on messages of peace and restraint.

“The Babri Masjid has been in our hearts for years,” said Sahil Ashraf, a Muslim in his mid-20s who returned to his hometown Ayodhya after the temple verdict was delivered in 2019. “Time will not reduce the sense of loss – it will only increase it.”

Others see the temple as confirming that Muslims in India must accept that they are now second-class citizens.

“Politically, it cements the SECOND CLASS status of India’s Muslims – forever,” prominent Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owais wrote on Twitter. He added: “For India’s Mus (sic) to be full equal citizens – with dignity and security – they must have POWER.”

| Percentage of Muslims Reporting Feelings on Ram Mandir |
|—|
|Satisfied with temple construction | 74% |
|Temple gives a sense of collective belonging | 67% |
|Temple reflects resurgence of Hindu identity | 77% |

*Source: Survey by Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an RSS-affiliated body

Critics argue such surveys underplay sentiments among India’s Muslim community, and say the Hindu nationalist push to build the temple reflects a broader assault on India’s secular foundations.

But some Muslim figures have pragmatically accepted the new Ram temple as a political reality, even if they still feel the mosque was unjustly targeted.

“I welcome building of the mandir,” said Iqbal Ansari, the son of one of the Muslim litigants in India’s longest-running land dispute. “Now there are no disputes over that land. Muslims have accepted that.”

What’s Next After the Ram Mandir Opening?

With national elections slated for 2024, Modi’s government is expected to continue targeting major Hindu temples and iconography to fuel support from his primarily Hindu voting base.

This includes renovation of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varansi, and potential litigation over the centuries-old Gyanvapi mosque in the same city. Hindus argue the mosque was built on top of a temple that marked the birthplace of the Hindu god Shiva.

The BJP has also called for an excavation in the city of Mathura around the Shahi Idgah mosque, which is adjacent to the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. Hindu groups believe the mosque stands on the remains of a temple from the Hindu epic period.

Religious Politics Set to Ratchet Up Sectarian Divisions

Religious processions and election campaigning mean the inauguration will see various Hindu nationalist groups converging in Ayodhya, which some fear could renew tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Additional police battalions have been deployed to Ayodhya and the neighboring towns of Faizabad, Barabanki and Rudauli, especially in areas with mixed populations of Hindus and Muslim. Police are also monitoring social media posts to ensure fake news does not circulate.

“We are keeping a close eye on elements that may potentially disrupt law and order conditions,” said Priti Gandhi, a regional police spokesperson.

But many Muslims in the region believe Modi’s event around the opening of the Ram Mandir provides political cover to accelerate hate crimes targeting their community.

Police data shows that 111 cases of violence against Muslims took place in the state of Uttar Pradesh – where Ayodhya is located – between September 2021 and December 2022. India also recorded over 300 incidents of communal violence last year, the highest in nearly a decade, according to data submitted to parliament by Modi’s junior home minister. At least 44 people died in these incidents.

The inauguration comes after right-wing Hindu groups embarked on aggressive processions touting Islamophobic slogans earlier this year. Farmer protests were also violently suppressed by the government last year.

International Reactions Cautious Amid Concerns Over Extremism

The opening of the temple has drawn reactions from political and religious figures across the world, many cautious due to the tensions surrounding the event.

Governments in the Islamic world, who would typically condemn sites of religious importance to Muslims being taken over, have largely been muted. This seems to indicate building stronger ties with India has taken precedence over concerns over treatment of Muslims.

But Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who leads the only major Muslim nuclear power, issued a strongly worded statement calling India’s actions at Ayodhya an “assault on religious freedom.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concerns over religious freedom in India but did not directly address the Ayodhya temple. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. encourages India to uphold its commitments to protect religious freedom.

Pope Francis made an appeal this week highlighting India’s track record of peaceful tolerance between faiths, saying “these great religious traditions rightly insist that sectarian violence contradicts the teachings of compassion, nonviolence and love of neighbor.”

What Modi Said at the Grand Opening Event

The extravaganza around the opening began with priests from southern India ceremonially consecrating the main temple and culminated in Modi dedicating the temple to the nation.

“This grand Ram temple in Ayodhya will give the message of Rashtra Bhakti (devotion to the nation). It will lift the entire country to new heights. It will showcase our cultural glory to the world,” Modi said in his address.

He struck an inclusive tone aimed at India’s Muslim minority, saying the “Constitution is our foremost holy book” that enshrines rights to equality and justice.

Modi also released a postage stamp to mark the Ram Mandir inauguration. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that Ayodhya will now be connected with airports.

But comments from senior BJP leaders reflected Hindu nationalist sentients underlying the renewed Ram temple campaign.

“Once the Bhavya Ram Mandir is ready, India will start becoming a ‘Vishwa Guru’ (world leader),” tweeted BJP President J.P. Nadda.

The ceremonies were capped off with Modi performing elaborate Hindu rituals within the inner sanctum and laying the first brick for construction of the main Ram idol. Hundreds of thousands of devotees who gathered for the event chanted his name, blew conch shells and erupted in celebration.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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