Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today presided over the inauguration ceremony of a controversial $100 million Hindu temple built on the site of a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992.
The construction of the ornately carved sandstone temple in the northern city of Ayodhya has been the focal point of rising religious tensions in India and a key priority for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP has promised the temple’s completion in time for key state elections this year and the 2024 general election as a way to energize its conservative Hindu support base.
Temple Opening Mobilizes BJP Supporters But Stokes Minority Fears
The inauguration has mobilized hundreds of thousands of Hindu supporters who view the site as the birthplace of the god Ram. Over a million devotees are expected to attend events in Ayodhya this weekend, transforming the small city into a major religious pilgrimage venue rivaling the Kumbh Mela.
However, the temple has also raised concerns that minority Muslims and Christians will face increased discrimination under BJP rule. Critics argue the temple glorifies violence against minorities and threatens India’s secular foundations.
“The opening of the temple is a political move rather than a religious one,” said Ali Rizvi, a Muslim business owner in Ayodhya. “It seems like another step by the BJP to make Muslims feel unwanted and unsafe in this country.”
Mosque Destruction and Violent Aftermath Deeply Politicized Site
The inaugurated temple sits on the former site of the 16th century Babri Masjid mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu extremists in 1992. The mosque’s destruction set off violent communal riots across India that left over 2,000 people dead.
In 2019, India’s Supreme Court ruled on the long-running land dispute, awarding the site to a trust overseeing the temple’s construction. While minority groups voiced disappointment, the court decision and temple groundbreaking were seen as major political victories for the BJP.
Key Events in Ayodhya Dispute
|Babri mosque built by Mughal empire
|Hindu activists place idol inside mosque, claiming site as Ram’s birthplace
|Hindu extremists demolish mosque
|59 Hindu activists killed returning from Ayodhya site, sparking anti-Muslim riots
|Allahabad court rules disputed land divided between Hindu and Muslim groups
|Supreme Court awards full site for Hindu temple
|Temple inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi
Modi Pushes $100 Million “National Project” to Rally Supporters
The ostentatious sandstone temple, built to a height of 161 feet with intricately carved pillars and domes made from pink Rajasthani sandstone, is estimated to have cost over $100 million so far.
Modi has trumpeted the temple construction as a major “national project” to restore Hindu pride after centuries of subjugation under Muslim then British rule. His government has provided extensive resources to swift completion of the temple palaces and ancillary buildings.
Political analysts see Modi’s personal linking of the temple project to his governance as a thinly-veiled attempt to further fuse religion and state. This, they argue, threatens the secular character of India’s democracy.
“Modi’s championing of Hindu supremacism will not only be a catalyst for further mob lynchings of Muslims suspected of eating beef or butchering cows, but could also tear apart the pluralistic fabric of the country,” wrote Shashi Tharoor, leader of the opposition Congress party, on Twitter.
Temple Consolidates “Hindutva” Ideology to Rally BJP Base
The completed temple is the physical embodiment of the BJP’s “Hindutva” ideology advocating Hindu hegemony amid fears over Muslim population growth. Policies from the renaming of cities with Muslim-origin names to the exclusion of non-Hindus from citizenship criteria have accompanied the temple build out.
The BJP hopes the temple will further consolidate its grip on power after landslide 2019 election victory, despite lack of progress on job growth and development promises.
“Hindutva is a political tactic for the BJP, not a religious ideology,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and leader of a Muslim political party. “Muslims are politically marginalized under this government.”
While Modi himself remains popular, economic troubles impacting BJP support in urban areas have renewed focus on retaining its base of poor, rural Hindus ahead of nine state elections in 2023 and 2024 national polls.
Temple City Envisions “Vedic Ramayana” Future as Religious Hub
The Hindu temple trust has put forward sweeping plans to develop Ayodhya into a major global center of “Ramayan tourism” – one drawing visitors with a mix of religion, commerce and entertainment.
The blueprint envisions building hotels, a recreational green riverfront, and a museum commemorating Hindu martial king Lord Ram. Critics argue development plans promote revisionist interpretations of history over archeological integrity.
Ayodhya’s Muslim minority now brace for demographic shift as Hindu pilgrims and tourists flood the city, accompanied by public money and incentives to promote Hindu-centric businesses.
“We foresee over 300 million annual visitors to Ayodhya in the years ahead,” claimed Champat Rai, the temple trust secretary. Rai said Ayodhya would showcase a “Vedic Ramayana vision” of ancient India.
Already over 50,000 digital payment-only shops manned by Hindi-speaking salespeople have opened around the temple selling religious trinkets and saffron-colored clothes. Muslim shop owners unable to afford expensive temple-approved vendor licenses now face eviction.
“It seems we may become prisoners in our own city,” worried Ayodhya Muslim Council chairman Haji Mahboob Ahmad. “The government speaks of progress, but what we see is now lifelong residents being made homeless.”
Temple Reawakens Calls for Reclaiming Hindu Sites Across India
Hindu activists emboldened by the temple’s completion have vowed to reclaim other mosques they claim were built over demolished temples across India.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which spearheaded the Ayodhya temple campaign since the 1980s, unveiled a hit list of 30,000 more Muslim sites they intend to take over – escalating fears of renewed religious violence.
The Modi government has stayed strategically quiet over inflammatory statements by some groups calling for a nationwide drive to restore temples from Hinduism’s “golden age” before Muslim conquests began in the 11th century.
Meanwhile, minority Muslim politicians and activists were conspicuously excluded from invitation lists to the Ayodhya inauguration as part of what critics called a “collapsing public space” for open debate. Police have instead ramped up security measures targeting Muslims ahead of the weekend events.
“The Ayodhya playbook signals an increasingly repressive turn in Indian politics,” argued Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a prominent public intellectual. “A state-sponsored vision of nationalism brooks less dissent by the day.”
With Modi facing no coherent political opposition, the question ahead of 2024 polls is whether Hindu nationalism retains its power to sway votes amid a spluttering economy. For now, the reconsecrated Ram temple seems likely to become a popular site of nationalist pilgrimage rewriting simmering tensions into sacred geography.
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