Modi inaugurates Hindu temple on contested site

Opponents accuse the Indian prime minister of using the religious ceremony in Ayodhya to launch his general election campaign

India marked the inauguration of a glittering temple dedicated to the Hindu God Ram at a small northern town on Monday. The religious ceremony was presided over by prime minister Narendra Modi ahead of general elections, which are scheduled to take place before May.

Millions of Indians celebrated across the country, as Mr Modi led the temple’s consecration at Ayodhya, 680km southeast of New Delhi.

During the hour-long ceremony, the 1.29cm black stone idol of Ram was installed in the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, located at the site of a 16th-century mosque demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992.

“Today is the beginning of a new kal chakra or cycle of time,” said Mr Modi at the conclusion of the televised ceremony, watched by millions at home and abroad. “We have broken the mind-frame of slavery and embraced a new history,” he said, referring to his often-repeated portrayal of centuries of Muslim and British colonial rule over India.


The prime minister asked for “forgiveness” from Ram for the “centuries-long wait” in building the temple and showered rose petals on some 7,000 invitees that included Indian film stars, businessmen, cricketers and retired military chiefs.

Only the ground floor of the three-storied temple was opened, leading Mr Modi’s critics, including senior Hindu clerics and opposition parties, to accuse him of hastening its inauguration with an eye on the elections, in which he hopes to secure a record third consecutive five-year term as prime minister.

Hindus consitute about 80 per cent of India’s population of 1.4 billion. Many are Ram devotees and consider the investiture ceremony India’s moment of “true awakening”. Mr Modi’s political opponents were obliged to declare their allegiance to Ram, indirectly endorsing the unveiling.

“The consecration of the temple feels more like the launching of the general election campaign, rather than a religious ritual,” social historian Prithvi Shobhi told Reuters.

Others maintained that Mr Modi’s pro-active role at a religious ceremony had narrowed the distance between church and state.

“It [the inauguration] is a moment where the state, which has pulled all its mighty power behind this event, ceases to be secular,” said political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

The movement to build the temple was launched by the BJP and its affiliates in the 1990s – Mr Modi was involved. It boosted Hindu nationalists politically, even though it periodically triggered communal riots in which thousands, mostly Muslims, died.

The protracted legal battle over ownership of the controversial site was resolved by India’s Supreme Court in 2019, with Hindus being allowed to build a temple on it and with Muslims allotted a plot for a mosque.

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Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi