Modi Ayodhya temple  UP Governor Anandiben Patel
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs Bhoomi Pujan rituals for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020 Image Credit: PTI

On 5 August 2020, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the groundbreaking for the Hindu temple of Ram in Ayodhya at the site of violently demolished Babri Mosque.

The day was synchronised with the first anniversary of the repeal of Article 370, which had granted limited autonomy to the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The celebration at Ayodhya and its projection in Indian media completely overlooked the fact that India has already become the global hotspot of COVID-19 pandemic and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is still in the occupation of substantial Indian territory.

Prime Minister Modi in his address after the groundbreaking ceremony described the importance of the event on 5 August 2020 is as powerful as India’s day of independence from the colonial rule on 15 August 1947.

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There is no doubt that the groundbreaking ceremony of Ram temple at Ayodhya on 5 August 2020 is as momentous as India’s day of independence on 15 August 1947.

While 15 August 1947 had started India’s mission to be a secular democratic country to be ruled under a constitution, 5 August 2020 became a landmark for India becoming a Hindu theocratic state, in which the most important law is majoritarian emotion.

India still continues to keep a secular constitution, but the country for all practical purposes has become a Hindu state.

Modi does not anymore pretend even as the leader of a secular country. He sees himself and overtly acts like a king of a Hindu Kingdom. If anyone had any doubt over it, Modi’s ‘royal’ presence at the groundbreaking ceremony of Ram Temple at Ayodhya has brought it to an end

- Prof Ashok Swain

India’s Supreme Court, which is supposed to protect the constitution, instead it has been regularly prioritising the so-called ‘majority sentiment’ while sacrificing the principles of rule of law.

In 1992, a Hindu fanatic mob had demolished a nearly 500-year old mosque, but the criminal act has been overlooked by the Court for almost 3 decades.

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At the same time, it went out of its way to expeditiously decide the civil case of the ownership of the Mosque land, ignored science, history, and archeological findings, and handed over that land to build a Hindu temple.

Strangely, a judicial decision was based on the belief of a majoritarian community about the birthplace of a mythical figure. The Chief Justice, who presided the bench, immediately after his retirement has been given a seat by Narendra Modi in the Upper House of Indian Parliament.

With the help of the judiciary, Modi has managed to give legal legitimacy to the demolition of a minority place of worship and the start of construction of a massive temple for the majority community at that site.

Master of the ceremony

As if that was not enough, he travelled to Ayodhya in the middle of a raging pandemic to be the master of the groundbreaking ceremony of the temple, in spite of heading the government of a constitutionally secular country.

He claimed the temple would help India’s nation-building while no one could ignore the fact that the temple was being built after demolishing a mosque.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had declined the invitation to be present at the inauguration of reconstructed Somnath Temple in 1951 and had expressed open displeasure when the then President decided to take part in that occasion.

The reconstruction of the Somnath temple was neither divisive nor it had been built over the site of a mosque. But, a Hindu nationalist Modi stands ideologically exact opposite to a secular democratic Nehru.

He not only attended the event, but made it sure that the event was less about Ram and his religious significance but more about Modi and his Hindu-right wing political messaging.

The whole town had been turned to a fortress by security forces to stop any expression of dissent. Besides Modi, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were also there but it was a Modi show all the way.

According to the 2011 Census, India has 3.01 million places of worship and only 2.1 million schools and colleges. India has more than 2 million Hindu temples and its 10 richest temples have enough financial resources to solve the country’s poverty issue.

Economy on the ventilator

While the country is suffering a pandemic, its health and social sectors have been collapsing and its economy is surviving with a ventilator, there is no other reason to build a massive temple at a communally controversial site with the support from the state than to show that India’s main priority is to make the country for Hindus and to reduce its minorities as second class citizens.

Since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, India’s secular inclusive values have come under serious threats from Hindu-right wing organisations and supporters. However, after his reelection in 2019 with the greater majority, his government has taken various legal and administrative measures, which clearly are an affront to India’s secular character.

Making ‘Triple Talaq’ a criminal act, abrupt withdrawal of the semi-autonomous status of the Muslim-majority Kashmir, leaving out Muslim refugees from receiving Indian citizenship and engaging India’s Supreme Court to legalise on illegal grounds the transfer of the land of a Mosque to build a temple are some of these actions. Uniform Civil Code and the countrywide National Register for Citizens are next on the agenda.

Modi does not anymore pretend even as the leader of a secular country. He sees himself and overtly acts like a king of a Hindu Kingdom. If anyone had any doubt over it, Modi’s ‘royal’ presence at the groundbreaking ceremony of Ram Temple at Ayodhya has brought it to an end.

Ashok Swain is a professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. Twitter: @ashoswai