New Delhi, Aug 5 (efe-epa).- Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday launched the foundation of a Hindu temple at a contested site in the northern city of Ayodhya where a 16th-century mosque was razed by a fanatic Hindu mob in 1992 that sparked one of India’s bloodiest communal riots.
Modi laid the symbolic foundation of a planned grand temple dedicated to the mythological Hindu god-king Ram in a televised ceremony that emphasized the overtly religious agenda of his right-wing government.
“This day represents the many-many years of struggle for this Ram temple, and the sacrifices and efforts made for this cause,” said the prime minister.
He was referring to a decades-long campaign by Hindu hardline groups to replace the medieval Babri mosque at the site which they believe is the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The movement for the construction of a grand temple had become the symbol of a Hindu resurgence for the right-wing politics and played a key role in the rise of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1980s and 1990s when its leaders organized nationwide marches.
The campaign culminated on Dec. 6, 1992 when a frenzied Hindu mob destroyed the mosque, believed to be constructed by the founder of Mughal rulers Babar.
The demolition kicked off widespread communal clashes between the majority Hindus, around 80 percent of the population, and Muslims, who form around 14.2 percent of the people.
Around 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the days of communal unrest following the demolition of the mosque.
Even as the BJP shifted in and out of power for two decades later, the legal battle between Hindus and Muslims gradually moved from lower to higher courts.
Finally in November last year, the Supreme Court decided the title of the site in favor of the Hindus and granted the land to a central government trust, established to oversee the building of the temple.
Even though the top court refused to acknowledge the place as the “birthplace of Ram,” as sought by the Hindu litigants, it denied the ownership rights of Muslims, saying they could not produce evidence in this regard.
As a solution ostensibly aimed at preserving religious harmony, the court ordered the construction of a temple of Ram and instructed the provincial and central government to grant a two-hectare plot of land elsewhere in the city to the Muslim community for building a new mosque.
Many Muslims have welcomed the construction of the temple, hoping that it would usher into communal harmony but mostly, including an influential group, felt disgruntled.
“Babri Masjid was and will always be a masjid (mosque). Hagia Sophia is a great example for us. Usurpation of the land by an unjust, oppressive, shameful, and majority appeasing judgment can’t change its status,” the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board said on Twitter
“No need to be heartbroken. Situations don’t last forever.”
Before launching the construction of the temple, the prime minister and saffron-clad priests participated in Hindu rituals at the site as the event was beamed live on national television channels.
He placed a silver brick weighing 40 kilos at the site and planted a Parijat tree, considered holy by the Hindus, at the complex.
“The Ram temple will be a modern symbol of our culture, eternal faith, national spirit, and collective will-power which will inspire generations to come,” Modi said in a speech.
Ahead of the ceremony, the city had been turned into a fortress with the deployment of around 4,000 security personnel and restrictions on entering the city to prevent large gatherings.
That was partly done to follow social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has affected over 1.9 million people in the country.