Modi’s Hindu Temple Opening Fuels Election Campaign Amidst Backlash
NEW DEHLI — The opening on Monday of a Hindu temple — a consecration ceremony considered a crowning moment for Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist movement — took place just months before the prime minister seeks to win a third term.
The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, a temple devoted to Lord Ram and built on the ruins of a historic mosque in northern Indian city of Ayodhya, is expected to give a major boost to Modi’s election campaign and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
While millions of Hindus celebrated the temple’s opening in India and around the world, Modi and his party faced backlash from international organizations, opposition parties and prominent spiritual leaders following the ceremony.
The Congress Party, in a statement, asserted that while religion is a personal matter, the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist volunteer paramilitary organization, have long pursued the construction of the Ram Mandir as a political project.
“Religion is a personal matter. But the RSS/BJP have long made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya,” they said in a statement. “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain.”
The four spiritual leaders of the Hindu religion — known as “Shankaracharyas” — also chose not to attend the ceremony, expressing their displeasure over what they perceive as a deviation from the principles of the ancient Hindu tradition “as the temple is still under construction, political and have electoral favors.”
Modi and the BJP hope that opening the temple will help jumpstart the prime minister to a record third straight term in elections expected to take place this spring.
Modi — dressed in a traditional kurta tunic — led the ceremony as several Hindu priests chanted hymns inside the temple’s inner sanctum before a large stone sculpture of Lord Ram that was installed last week. Over 7,000 people attended the event, while millions more watched on TV.
This morning, Indian PM Modi inaugurated a Hindu temple with a statue of Lord Rama in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh pic.twitter.com/UhPhvkMdn8
— S p r i n t e r (@Sprinter99800) January 22, 2024
“Our Lord Ram has arrived after centuries of wait,” Modi said in a speech after the ceremony, calling it a testament to a rising India “breaking the shackles of slave mentality.”
He added: “Jan. 22, 2024, is not merely a date — but marks the dawn of a new era.”
The Hindu temple is 30 years in the making. It was on Dec. 6, 1992, Babri Masjid, a historic mosque built in the 16th century, was demolished by a large mob, primarily consisting of lakhs of Hindutva men and women.
The destruction occurred during a political rally organized by various right-wing Hindu groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The temple, and the grounds it was built on, cost around $217 million. It’s opening brought with it consternation from political foes who said Modi’s fusing of politics and faith made for a bad mix.
In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India delivered a significant ruling on the Ayodhya dispute, stating that the contested site in northern India, where the Babri Masjid, a 460-year-old mosque, was destroyed, should be handed over to a trust for the construction of a Hindu temple.
The Supreme court’s verdict sparked a range of critiques, with some contending that the court’s decision essentially provided a legal endorsement to the political agenda of Hindutva world wide, which had played a role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
“It’s a result of mass delusion and mass hysteria,” said Sejal Patel, a journalist based in New Delhi. “It would be short sighted to say that it’s just for the 2024 general elections, instead the event is to make a statement for the coming generations.”
Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed, who heads the Indian American Muslim Council, said, “The recent widespread festivities in the United States are concerning. The celebration of Ram temple consecration and glorification of Babri masjid demolition on a global scale is a blatant endorsement of religious intolerance.”
In a statement, the organization added: “India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is orchestrating a grand spectacle, hosting over 6,000 guests. Simultaneously, Hindu far-right groups have planned car rallies, events, and parades across the United States, marking a distressing extension of this divisive celebration.”
At the same time, several prominent political leaders across the country declined the invitation to the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir. Their decision to skip the event is attributed to concerns about the politicization of religious beliefs.
Sitaram Yechury, secretary-general of the Communist Party of India, said, “What is happening in this inauguration ceremony is that it has been converted into a state-sponsored event with the Prime Minister, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and others holding Constitutional positions.”
Potential disruptions to emergency services
The central government’s announcement of a half-day closure for numerous hospitals, government offices, central institutions and businesses across the country on Monday raised concerns about potential disruptions to emergency services nationwide.
Most notably, India’s largest government hospital, AIIMS Delhi, was scheduled to close until 2:30 p.m. — a decision that extended to several other hospitals across the country. This move has prompted fears of a potential health crisis due to the temporary non-functioning of critical healthcare facilities.
Following backlash, AIIMS Delhi reversed its decision and released a statement on Sunday saying, “The OPD services will remain open but only for patients with prior appointments.”
At the same time, many other hospitals across the country remained closed on Monday.
Many Muslims advised people in their own community to stay inside their homes and to avoid engaging in discussions or arguments related to the Ram temple.
Shifa Fatima, who is a practicing Muslim, expressed her concerns, saying, ““There’s a persistent fear that these celebrations might pose a threat to us. All I sense is disappointment, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness.”
In Mumbai, a Hindutva mob celebrated the Ram temple event by engaging in disturbing actions and verbally abusing Muslims while shouting genocidal slogans and vandalizing Muslim-owned properties.
Gafoor Ahmed, a 56-year-old businessman based in Mumbai, expressed his concerns about the ceremony and the anti-Muslim hate that ensued.
“We live in constant fear for our lives,” he said. “I advise my family to stay indoors as the temple celebrations seem to have turned into a spectacle of hooliganism.”
Even as far as New York, Indians who sympathize with Modi’s far-right Hindu populism chanted slogans to take over two more mosques in the Indian cities of Mathura and Varanasi.
“Ayodhya is just a teaser,” the crowd chanted. “Kashi and Mathura are pending!”
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged
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