NEW DELHI (AP) — Three decades after Hindu mobs tore down a historic mosque, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the dedication of a major Hindu temple on the same site Monday in a political move to boost his party ahead of crucial national elections. Choose.
Experts say the temple, dedicated to Hinduism’s most revered god, Lord Ram, will cement Modi’s legacy – enduring but also controversial – as one of India’s most important leaders, who sought to transform the country from a secular democracy into a self-declared state. -Obviously Hindu.
“From the start, Modi was driven to mark his permanent status in history. He has ensured this with the Ram Temple,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, an expert on Hindu nationalism and author of a book on Modi.
Many see the opening of the temple as the start of a campaign to elect Modi, a nationalist widely accused of supporting Hindu supremacy in officially secular India. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party is expected to once again exploit religion for political gain in the upcoming national elections in April or May and secure a third consecutive term in power.
Made a national event by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the opening of the temple in Ayodhya – a small town in northern India that has been a historical flashpoint – is expected to elicit a deep response among Hindu voters.
Many of Modi’s supporters see him as responsible for restoring Hindu pride in India, where Muslims make up more than 14% of the population.
“What is being done in Ayodhya, the scale of construction right now will actually make it look like the Hindu Vatican, and that is what will be publicized,” Mukhopadhyay said. “Modi will not miss a single opportunity to try to sell the temple building achievements.”Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, a business event to attract investment to the state of Gujarat, in Gandhinagar, India, Wednesday, January 10, 2024.
Built at an estimated cost of $217 million (£170 million), the Ram Temple is a center for Hindus who believe that God Ram was born on the very spot where Mughal Muslims built the Babri Mosque in the 16th century on the ruins of the temple.
The mosque was destroyed by a Hindu mob in December 1992, triggering nationwide riots that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. This set in motion events that redefined social identity politics in India and catapulted Modi’s BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
In the early 1990s, Modi, then a little-known local leader in his home state of Gujarat, also helped organize public agitation aimed at garnering support for the construction of a Ram Temple on the former site of the Babri Mosque.
Muslim groups waged a decades-long court battle for the restoration of the Babri Masjid. The dispute ended in 2019 when, in a controversial ruling, India’s Supreme Court called the demolition of the mosque a “gross violation of the rule of law,” but awarded the site to Hindus anyway. The court gave Muslims different plots of land in remote areas.
The fraught history remains an open wound for many Muslims, and some say the temple is the greatest political testament to Hindu supremacy.
“There is a fear that this government and all its affiliates want to erase all traces of Muslim or Islamic civilization from this country,” said Ziya Us Salam, author of the book “Being Muslim in Hindu India.”
Indian Muslims have increasingly come under attack in recent years by Hindu nationalist groups, and at least three historic mosques in northern India are embroiled in court disputes over claims made by Hindu nationalist groups that they were built on the ruins of temples. Hindu nationalists have also filed numerous cases in Indian courts seeking ownership of hundreds of historic mosques.
“On the one hand, they want to rename all cities with Muslim-sounding names. “On the other hand, they want to remove almost all mosques, and the courts are happy to accept petitions under any pretext,” Salam said.
Rebuilding temples on disputed sites has been part of the BJP’s election strategy for decades, but it was Modi – who rose to power in 2014 on a wave of Hindu revivalism – who finally made good on that promise after attending a groundbreaking ceremony in 2020.
Ahead of its opening, Modi asked people to celebrate across the country by lighting lights in homes and at local temples, saying the temple would be a symbol of “cultural, spiritual and social unity.” His administration also announced a half-day closure of all its offices on Monday to allow employees to participate in the celebrations. Modi has released postage stamps on the Ram Temple, and live screenings of the ceremony are planned across the country.
In many cities and towns, saffron flags, a symbol of Hindu nationalism, are ubiquitous. A number of other politicians, famous film stars and industrialists are also expected to attend.
But the event will also be marked by some notable absences.
Several opposition leaders boycotted the ceremony, denouncing it as a political gimmick and accusing the government of exploiting religion for political gain. Four Hindu religious leaders refused to attend the inauguration, and two of them said that the dedication of the incomplete temple was against Hindu scriptures, and that Modi was not a religious leader and was therefore not qualified to officiate at the ceremony.
Salam said Modi has erased the boundaries between state and religion by making his faith a public display which has galvanized his hardline supporters.
“When was the last time he served as prime minister? “There are many instances where he has only acted as a BJP leader or as a Hindutva mascot, rarely as the prime minister of India,” Salam said.