You celebrate India Next Friday is Republic Day and the 74th anniversary of the adoption of its constitution, which was drafted following the bloody partition that led to the establishment of India as an independent state alongside the state of Pakistan in a rare historical incident.
Although the Indian Constitution stipulated in the preamble to its 1976 amendment that “India is a secular, democratic state,” which means the separation of state and religious affairs, successive scenes coming from India indicate that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi He is keen to appear as a Hindu leader rather than a politician.
It was calculations of planetary movement made by Hindu priests that determined the laying of the foundation stone for the Hindu Ram temple erected on the ruins Historical Babri Mosque In the town of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, northern India, on August 5, 2020, but political calculations determined the opening date of the temple yesterday, Monday.
On both occasions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi topped the scene, as he was the one who laid the foundation stone for the Hindu temple that was built on the ruins of the Babri Mosque, which was built in the 16th century in northern India and which was demolished by Hindu extremists and mobs 32 years ago, claiming that it was the place where the “Hindu god Ram” was born. According to their belief.
Four years ago, Modi ignored his critics who considered his participation in building a Hindu temple to be in violation of the Constitution of India as a secular state. Rather, he made sure to lay the foundation stone of the Ram Temple himself in a massive Hindu ceremony held for this purpose at the height of the spread of the Corona pandemic.
While laying the foundation stone, Modi considered the temple a “symbol of modern India” and the day on which he laid the foundation stone a “historic day”, as it coincided with the first anniversary of the abolition of the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, which has long been the subject of dispute with its neighbor and arch-rival, Pakistan.
When he inaugurated the temple yesterday, Monday, Modi placed a lotus flower in front of the black stone idol of the Hindu god Ram, which was decorated with golden decorations, carrying a golden bow and arrow, then prostrated to the idol.
Amidst loud applause, Modi said in a speech he delivered after the ceremony in front of thousands of attendees: “God Ram has arrived after centuries of waiting,” stressing that the temple was built after “countless sacrifices,” considering this a testimony to the renaissance of India, “which broke the shackles of mentality.” “Slaves.” He also considered that the opening day of the temple “is not just a date, but represents the dawn of a new era.”
Modi preceded his lead in the inauguration event by immersing himself in Hindu religious rituals for 11 consecutive days, during which he toured a number of Hindu temples and said in a recorded message on his YouTube channel: “The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India during the inauguration.”
A historic celebration
Millions of Indians watched the ceremony on television, and news channels covered the event live non-stop, as it was depicted as a religious spectacle.
A television news headline said, “Ram Rajya Rule Begins.” The phrase “Ram Rajya” is Sanskrit and means just and moral rule in Hinduism, but it was borrowed and used by Hindu nationalists to denote Hindu dominance in officially secular India.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by nearly 7,500 people, including the elite of financial, business and industrial leaders, politicians and film stars, including former captain of the national cricket team Virat Kohli and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, and the rituals were broadcast on a giant screen outside the temple while a military helicopter dropped flower petals.
Jubilant worshipers flocked from all over the country to celebrate the opening, with groups of them dancing to religious songs blaring from loudspeakers on flower-lined roads. Huge figures of Lord Ram and billboards of Modi were placed everywhere across Ayodhya, and the borders were closed to prevent more people from entering, with about 20,000 security personnel and more than 10,000 security cameras deployed.
The Modi government planned live shows across the country, and even cinemas showed the event and provided free popcorn. Activists of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party went from house to house distributing religious flags, while Modi encouraged Hindus in various states to celebrate by lighting lamps in homes and local shrines. While government offices closed their doors for half a day, and many states declared the day an official holiday, stock and financial markets were also closed on this occasion.
Indian media reports reported that many pregnant women whose due date was approaching asked doctors to speed up their help in giving birth on this day.
The celebrations extended to include Hindu communities abroad. In the United Kingdom – where there are more than a million Hindus and 189 officially registered temples for them – the Gujarati community (relative to the Indian state of Gujarat, Modi’s homeland) held a huge celebration at the Vishwa Hindu Temple in Southall, and thousands of Hindus flocked to the temple. The days-long celebration included continuous reading of the Hindu epic Ramayan.
The temple's general secretary, who is also the spokesperson for the Hindu Council of the UK, said Hindus had been waiting for this moment for a long time. He said that thousands of worshipers and some local representatives lit thousands of lamps to celebrate the opening. Some members of the Indian Hindu community organized a march of 325 cars in the capital, London, on this occasion.
A day before the opening ceremony, Rabindra Naren Singh, head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu group, said that “the Ram shrine in Ayodhya will be developed on the lines of Vatican City and Mecca, and will emerge as a symbol of Hindutva,” calling on Hindus to “stand united before the inauguration ceremony.” Forced religious conversions, and missionaries of other religions.”
As for the spokesman for the same group, Sharad Sharma, a member of the Hindu Fund for Temple Construction, he said, “After 500 years of Hindu oppression, the god Ram is finally being returned to Ayodhya.” He likened the complex to “Vatican City,” emphasizing its status as “the holiest site for Hindus throughout the world.”
The temple extends over an area of 7.4 acres, and is located above the ruins of the Babri Mosque, which dates back to the sixteenth century. The Indian government did not fund the construction of the temple, and the cost of the part that was built is estimated at 217 million dollars collected from Hindu donations. Officials say that the temple, which is a 3-storey building, made of pink sandstone.
Western reports, citing Hindu sources, state that donations to the temple – which will become the third largest temple in the world – amounted to 4 trillion rupees (38 billion pounds sterling). From various sources, gifts poured in, including a 33-meter-long incense stick made of cow dung, ghee and herbs, which is expected to be visited by 100,000 worshipers daily.
History records India's founding fathers as trying to hold together a deeply religious and diverse nation. They agreed that the government and its representatives would treat all religions equally, but this compromise did not go down well with Hindu nationalists who viewed Muslims with some envy over Pakistan's creation of a Muslim state, and they were angry. Of depriving them of a Hindu state of their own.
Decades later, they found their target in Modi, who was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization), a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization with roots in some fascist movements in India in the 1920s. It calls for the creation of a state in which the strong central rule of a racist Hindu party and its leader will lead to the rebirth of a golden Hindu civilization.
This organization is the one that later gave birth to most of the symbols of the Bharatiya Janata Party. As a result of the shame that befell the movement as a result of one of its members assassinating Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, and out of its desire to enter Parliament, it changed its name to the Jana Sangh and entered the elections. 1957.
Modi rose to power in 2014 pledging to reform the country's economy and usher in a new era of development, but throughout his political career he has also strongly pushed the agenda of Hindutva, an ideology that believes India should become a land of Hindus.
During his 10 years in power, he sought to transform the country from a secular democracy into a distinctly Hindu state, and analysts say the pomp-filled, government-led display shows how much the line between church and state has eroded under Modi.
When the Indian Supreme Court in 2019 issued its ruling for the construction of the Ram Temple in place of the Babri Mosque, Modi said that the decision “brought a new dawn” to the nation and would lead to “the creation of a new India.” Hence, the construction of the temple is considered a political and cultural victory for Modi and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and Modi’s political life itself coincided with the establishment of this Hindu political project, and therefore the dedication of the temple seems similar to Modi dedicating himself as a political and “religious” leader from India.
Analysts see yesterday's celebration as the beginning of Modi's election campaign, and a strong boost to the BJP's aspirations in the general elections that will be held over several weeks in April and May. In the coming years, he hopes that this will lead him to a record third consecutive term in these elections.
An overwhelming majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party would enable Modi – if he succeeds in the elections – to amend the constitution during his third 5-year term. Major amendments require the approval of two-thirds of the members present in each house of Parliament, followed in some cases by the approval of at least half of the 28 state legislatures.
Constitutional changes discussed in the past by the BJP and its predecessors have included renaming India by its Sanskrit name “Bharat”, mandating simultaneous elections for both Parliament and state legislatures, and nationalizing the ban on cow slaughter that is now in effect in some states.
Using an elected politician to preside over Hindu ceremonies is largely unprecedented in India's history as a secular republic, and Modi's directive to politicians, requiring them to visit Hindu temples, would have the same effect of disenfranchising non-Hindu politicians.
In his decade as India's prime minister, Modi has since sought to reverse many of these agreements and provide state patronage for Hindu religious identity. This campaign was originally based on the belief that secularism in India was unfairly skewed in favor of religious minorities.
In 2018, Modi canceled state support for Muslim pilgrims, and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has steadily reduced the representation of Muslims in national politics, and since 2022, it has not had a single Muslim member of parliament – in a country where about 200 million people converted to Islam.
The event was boycotted by some senior leaders of the Congress Party, India's main opposition party, with several opposition lawmakers accusing Modi of exploiting the temple to achieve political points. In response to this boycott, Sudhanshu Trivedi, spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, said the reason behind this was “jealousy, hatred and inferiority complex towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, considering that the Congress party was against “country” and “god”, he said.
Modi's opening of the temple – yesterday, Monday – sets a precedent for Indian prime ministers to perform religious functions, thus making non-Hindus ineligible for this position. If the opening of the temple constitutes A victory for Modi and his supporters, it is, in turn, a blow to many Muslims for whom the destruction of the Babri Mosque remains a source of tension and a sense of deep loss.
Muslims make up about 200 million of India's population of 1.4 billion. Under Modi, they have become second-class citizens and are regularly exposed to human rights violations – according to Freedom House – which says that India, which was considered the largest democracy in the world, “the persecution of Muslims is increasing.”
There are indications that the Ayodhya temple may represent a new era in the war of Hindu supremacy over mosques. For the country's Muslim minority, it is a painful reminder of the religious divisions they fear will become more pronounced under the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Muslim fears are increasing, especially since there are many cases filed before Indian courts seeking to demolish more mosques in order to build Hindu temples in Varanasi, Mathura and other cities. These demolitions may unleash further violence against India's beleaguered Muslim minority, and reinforce the feeling that the country belongs to Hindus, and to Hindus alone.