A decades long Hindu nationalist dream is about to be realized

A decades-long Hindu nationalist dream is about to be realized. What does that mean? -CNN


Ornate gifts are now arriving in the Indian city of Ayodhya as the country's prime minister, Narendra Modi, prepares to inaugurate a massive Hindu temple that he hopes will strengthen his chances of a rare third election victory in just a few months.

Although still unfinished, the sprawling Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir fulfills a long-standing promise by Modi to build a Hindu temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu mobs more than 30 years ago.

This attack transformed India and gave impetus to the country's Hindu nationalist movement.

That's why Monday's ceremony is extremely controversial, and while many Hindus will celebrate her inauguration, for the country's Muslim minority population it is a painful reminder of the religious divisions they fear will erupt under Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party government (BJP) will become even more pronounced.

Here's what you need to know:

An idol of Lord Ram, one of Hinduism's most revered deities, will be unveiled in the temple's sanctum sanctorum in a dedication ceremony conducted by Modi and streamed before millions of people.

More than 7,000 people were invited to attend the ceremony in person, including senior politicians who traveled from across the vast country to attend.

About 100 charter planes are expected to land in Ayodhya on Monday, with hotel prices soaring and last-minute bookings costing more than $1,200 a day, according to local media reports.

Since January 16, priests have been conducting prayers and performing rituals while workers are bringing the idol into the temple complex. Senior BJP leaders have given numerous television interviews about the events, and Indian news channels are covering the celebrations at the temple around the clock.

The ceremony is also expected to be broadcast abroad at Indian embassies and on giant television screens in New York's Times Square.

Ahead of the event, Modi fasted and prayed in an 11-day ritual steeped in Hindu religious symbolism.

“The Lord has made me an instrument to represent the entire people of India during the consecration,” he said in a recorded message on his YouTube channel.

“I seek your blessings from all of you,” Modi added.

Why is the Ram Mandir so controversial?

The site of the temple was once the site of the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque built during the Mughal Empire, which ruled India from 1526 to 1858.

However, many Hindus believe that the Babri Mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple that was supposedly destroyed by Babar, the first Mughal emperor of South Asia.

The place is significant to them as they believe that it is the birthplace of Lord Ram, who will now have the honor of building the new Ram Mandir.

Hindu nationalist groups had campaigned for years to demolish the mosque in order to build a temple in its place. In 1992, Hindu hardliners, spurred on by the BJP and other right-wing groups, attacked the city with hammers, sparking widespread communal violence.

Douglas E. Curran/AFP/Getty Images

Hindu fundamentalists use iron rods to attack the wall of the 16th-century Babri Mosque at a disputed holy site in the city of Ayodhya in 1992.

Dozens of temples and mosques were also targeted in a series of revenge attacks that killed more than 2,000 people across the country.

The violence was among the worst in India since the bloody clashes that accompanied the partition after independence in 1947.

In the years that followed, Hindu nationalists rallied to build the Ram Mandir on the site of the destroyed mosque, leading to an emotional and politically charged showdown that lasted decades.

In 2019, India's Supreme Court granted Hindus permission to build the temple on the disputed site, ending the dispute.

It was seen as a victory for Modi and his supporters, but was a blow to many Muslims for whom the destruction of the Babri mosque remains a source of deep tension and loss.

Modi came to power in 2014 promising to reform the country's economy and usher in a new era of development – but throughout his political career he has also heavily pushed the Hindutva agenda, an ideology that posits that India is a… Land should be for Hindus.

While Modi was in power, Modi's party rallied for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, another promise to his core voters, a move seen by many as favoring the country's Hindu majority.

When the Supreme Court delivered its verdict four years ago, Modi said the decision brought “a new dawn” for the nation and would lead to “the creation of a new India.”

Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the inauguration of a new airport and railway station in Ayodhya, India, Saturday, December 30, 2023.

Critics say Hindu nationalist politicians have turned India away from its secular founding principles and that the construction of the temple in Ayodhya is the culmination of their decades-long campaign to transform the country.

The opening of the temple next week is widely expected to boost Modi's chances of winning a rare third term in general elections expected later this year, after making good on his promise to millions of voters.

While the government has not funded the construction of the temple, Modi and his BJP have heavily promoted its inauguration, with a colossal push to equate it with a historic national event.

The BJP's parent organization, the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has distributed food to around 50 million families in the area and urged them to take part in the temple celebrations, according to BJP officials.

About 200 million of India's 1.4 billion people are Muslim. Ayodhya, in the electorally crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is home to around three million people, including around 500,000 Muslims – and some of them fear attacks on the day of the temple's inauguration.

Many Muslims have sent messages of support to each other on social media, with WhatsApp messages urging the community not to travel on public trains and buses for their own safety.

The 2019 Supreme Court order that paved the way for the construction of the Ram temple also said that authorities must reserve land for building a mosque about 25 kilometers away.

Amit Dave/Portal

Muslims pray for peace ahead of the verdict at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya, on the grounds of a mosque in Ahmedabad, India, November 8, 2019.

But construction of the mosque is not scheduled to begin until May.

Some prominent Muslim lawmakers have criticized the temple's inauguration and lamented the loss of the Babri Mosque where their ancestors recited the Quran hundreds of years ago.

“Young people, we have lost our masjid (mosque) and you see what is being done there,” Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen political party, told his supporters during a speech earlier this month. “Have you no pain in your hearts?”

The BJP's main opposition, the Indian National Congress, has said it will boycott the inauguration, saying the BJP is politicizing the event.

Reacting to the Congress' decision to miss the ceremony, BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi told reporters that the party was driven by “jealousy, malice and inferiority complex towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, adding that the party was against the “Country” and “God”.

How much will the temple cost and what will it look like?

Indian engineering firm Larsen and Toubro is building the temple within a 70-acre (28-hectare) complex. Construction is expected to cost around 15 billion rupees (US$180 million).

The government did not provide any funds for the establishment. Instead, around 30 billion rupees ($361 million) in donations were raised for the complex.

Three sculptors have carved murals of Lord Ram, one of which was selected by a jury to be placed in the Sanctum Sanctorum. The black stone sculpture weighs between 150 and 200 kg and depicts the deity as a five-year-old boy.