The Controversial Ram Temple: A Transformative Moment for India’s Hindus and Muslims
In the heart of Ayodhya, a city resonating with historical significance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to inaugurate the much-anticipated Ram Mandir on Jan. 22. This monumental event has been a long-standing goal, transcending decades of tension between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. The Ram Mandir, a sprawling temple complex dedicated to the revered Hindu god-king Ram, stands on a plot of land that has been at the center of controversy since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
1. The Grand Inauguration of Ram Mandir
On the auspicious day of Jan. 22, Modi will lead a consecration ceremony, opening a portion of the Ram Mandir to the public. This event aligns strategically with the upcoming national election, positioning Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to fulfill a crucial campaign promise. The partial unveiling precedes the completion of the entire temple, with ongoing construction indicating a promising future for this sacred site. To accommodate the expected influx of pilgrims, a new Ayodhya airport has been completed, marking the city’s transformation with increased infrastructure development.
2. Significance for Hindus: Ram’s Reverence and Historical Discord
At the core of this controversy lies the veneration of Ram, a central figure in Hinduism’s revered epic, the Ramayana. Many Hindus view the Babri Masjid, the mosque razed to make way for the Ram Mandir, as a deliberate affront to their faith, constructed on what they believe to be Ram’s birthplace. Discord over the 2.77-acre plot has deep historical roots and has exacerbated tensions between India’s Hindu majority, constituting 80% of the population, and the Muslim minority, comprising about 14%.
3. The Complex History of the Ayodhya Site
The colonial era saw the British maintaining a divided site, allowing Muslims to pray inside the mosque and Hindus to worship outside. In 1949, post-independence, Hindu activists breached the mosque, placing an idol of Ram inside. The ensuing government intervention locked the main gate, leading to the mosque’s eventual permanent closure in 1986. Reopening in the same year, allegedly with government consent, ignited the 1980s campaign by Hindu nationalists to construct a Ram temple. The tragic culmination occurred on Dec. 6, 1992, when Hindu activists, in the presence of authorities, demolished the Babri Masjid, sparking nationwide riots with a significant toll on the Muslim community.
4. Legal Resolution of the Ayodhya Dispute
In 2010, a court in Allahabad awarded Hindu petitioners a portion of the disputed site, granting them the right to construct the temple. The court decisively affirmed Ram’s birthplace at the contentious location. Subsequently, India’s Supreme Court, in 2019, mandated the entire site to a trust responsible for building the Ram Mandir. The legal resolution also allocated a five-acre parcel elsewhere in Ayodhya to Muslims for rebuilding the Babri Masjid, ensuring a delicate balance in the aftermath of the dispute.
5. Modi’s Role in the Ram Mandir Saga
The Ram Mandir dispute has been integral to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindu nationalist movement. Modi, actively involved since the 1980s, played a key role in organizing the campaign. The BJP consistently included the temple construction in its election manifestos, leveraging the issue to garner support within the Hindu nationalist movement. Modi’s association with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, during his tenure as chief minister, led to international scrutiny. Despite allegations of insufficient action, a panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence that Modi’s decisions hindered assistance to victims. His leadership on the Ram Mandir issue has remained a significant aspect of his political trajectory, contributing to the BJP’s narrative.
6. BJP’s Impact on Hindu Nationalism
While India was established as a secular state, the BJP, during its decade in power, has pursued policies reshaping the nation towards overt Hindu dominance. Initiatives such as the citizenship law prioritizing non-Muslims, the revocation of autonomy for the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, and laws impeding interfaith marriages have stirred controversy. Critics argue that this elevation of Hindu majority has led to persecution and violence against minority groups, overshadowing the addressing of critical issues like government corruption, unemployment, education standards, and income inequality.