Conflicts & War

Religious fervor grips Ayodhya as temple inauguration draws nearer

By David Asta Alares

Ayodhya, India, Jan 19 (EFE).- The city of Ayodhya, in northern India, is overflowing with fervent Hindus and resounding with the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” (Glory to Lord Ram) as the inauguration of a controversial temple, where the Hindus claim this deity was born, draws closer.

In recent weeks, the city has become the center of attention of millions of Hindus, exultant at the inauguration of a temple, which is viewed as the death of secularism in India by some critical voices.

Shailendra Kumar, spokesperson for the Hindu extremist organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Ayodhya, told EFE that he expects around 100,000 visitors a day in the city, twice as many as until now, drawn by the temple and by new infrastructure that has accompanied it, including an international airport and a train station.

“It is definitely a holy time because people have been waiting for this time for the last 500 years or so,” VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain said.

The temple stands on the ruins of the Babri Masjid, built in the 16th century by Mughal emperor Babar and razed in 1992 by a Hindu mob as part of a campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The mosque’s demolition was followed by a wave of violence between Hindus and Muslims in which 2,000 people were killed, mostly belonging to the Muslim community, which in 2011 made up 14.2 percent of India’s population or 172 million people, according to the latest census.

Hindu nationalists argue that Babar in turn constructed the mosque on top of an earlier temple, which marked the exact birthplace of god Ram, a version the Supreme Court of India ended up agreeing with in 2019.

In front of the far-from-finished temple despite the imminent inauguration, people chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and wave saffron flags, considered sacred in Hinduism.

This celebratory atmosphere contrasts with the tense calm that reigns, less than 500 meters from the entrance of the new temple, in front of the residence of Iqbal Ansari.

Ansari is one of the Muslims who, for decades, disputed the ownership of the land on which the destroyed mosque was erected.

The memory of the mob that flooded Ayodhya in 1992 and the violence that followed has been forever etched in his mind.

“We don’t know what is going to happen, so many VIPs are coming, the PM is coming, nothing (untoward) is supposed to happen but we don’t know what is going to happen next,” he told EFE.

After being seen showering flowers on Modi as he passed through the city in December and receiving an invitation for the inauguration of the temple, Ansari insisted that Muslims have accepted the Supreme Court’s decision in 2019.

The infrastructure built in the city “is good for everyone,” he said.

If there is criticism or unrest among the Muslim community, they are not making it public, lawmaker Ritesh Pandey, belonging to the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and whose constituency includes parts of the district of Ayodhya, told EFE.

Modi, who is conducting a series of Hindu rituals in the 11 days leading up to the consecration of the temple, will be the chief guest at the event, as he was during the foundation stone laying ceremony in 2020.

Modi, who has crafted an image of a Hindu ascetic, is riding the wave of “Hindu triumphalism” in a great political spectacle on the eve of general elections in April and May, journalist and writer Dhirendra K. Jha, author of several books on Hindu conservative organizations, told EFE.

Jha pointed out that Hindu nationalism has already shifted its focus on other mosques, such as the one in Gyanvapi, in the ancient city of Varanasi, and another in Mathura.

In both cases, Hindu extremists allege that they we constructed on top of destroyed temples. EFE

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