A Controversial Rebrand

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday opened a Hindu temple built on the site of a mosque razed amid deadly religious riots in 1992, intending to boost his campaign ahead of this spring’s general election, the Associated Press reported.

Thousands gathered in the northern city of Ayodhya, joining a group of high-profile guests, including politicians, cricket stars, and Bollywood actors, to witness Modi consecrating Ram Mandir, dubbed a Hindu “Vatican.”

The prime minister welcomed “a new era” in Indian history. For him and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the temple reaffirmed Hindu pride, which they claimed was suppressed during centuries of Muslim Mughal and British rule.

However, for the 500,000 Muslims in the city, the ceremony revived wounds caused by the 1992 intercommunal riots between opposing Hindu and Muslim communities, in which 2,000 people were killed. Amid the violent confrontation, Hindu nationalist activists destroyed the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque named after Mughal emperor Babur.

The activists claimed the mosque had been built on the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of Hinduism’s major deities. A 2019 Supreme Court ruling settled the dispute, greenlighting the Hindu temple project citing archaeological evidence of a non-Islamic building found beneath the mosque’s site.

The court granted Muslims land to build a new mosque 15 miles from Ayodhya. To date, construction, led by a BJP official, has not started, CNN reported.

Meanwhile, Ram Mandir is also far from completion. Critics accused Modi of rushing the opening to fit his campaign calendar, wrote World Politics Review. The opening was an “illustration of the mutually beneficial ties between Modi and India’s Hindu nationalist movement, which he and his party have utilized to gain political power and amplified via his government’s policies and rhetoric,” the magazine said.

That’s because one of Modi’s key electoral promises was to build the temple. Monday’s ceremony was described as an attempt to woo India’s Hindu majority, which make up 80 percent of the population, ahead of a general election expected to occur between April and May. Modi is predicted to secure a record third term.

Since he took power in 2014, many BJP-led states have implemented measures favoring Hindus, as part of an ideology called “Hindutva” which aims at achieving a Hindu state in India. The country currently has a secular constitution.

Pakistan reacted to the opening ceremony of Ram Mandir, considered a symbol of Hindutva, warning about the rise of Islamophobia in India and the ideology’s threat to regional peace, the Hindustan Times reported.

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