Published: 10:54, January 23, 2024 | Updated: 18:50, January 23, 2024
Modi's opening of Hindu temple said in favor of general elections
By Aparajit Chakraborty in New Delhi

Hindu holy men throng to get the first look of the temple dedicated to Hinduism’s Lord Ram soon after its inauguration in Ayodhya, India, Jan 22, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

The inauguration of a grand temple to Hindu god Ram yet to complete on a historical site by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Jan 22 has brought joy to many believers yet disagreement among others before this year’s national election.

The $217 million temple honoring Lord Ram in Ayodhya, a city of about 3 million inhabitants in the state of Uttar Pradesh, around 700 km from New Delhi, is being transformed into a tourism destination. Officials said the place is expected to become a Hindu version of the Vatican, with the temple honoring Lord Ram, the most venerated god in Hinduism.

“After centuries of waiting, our Ram has arrived,” Modi said in an emotional speech after consecrating rituals. “We are laying the foundation of India for the next 1,000 years from this moment.”

The temple, Ayodhya Ram Mandir, was built on the site of Babri Masjid, a Muslim mosque dating to 1528 that was destroyed by Hindu nationalist mobs in 1992 triggering nearly 2,000 deaths in nationwide riots. In 2019, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the temple could be built on the disputed 7-acre site, in a controversial decision that was criticized by Muslim groups.

Around 7,500 dignitaries, including politicians, diplomats, Indian celebrities, and religious leaders, attended the Ram temple's consecration

Modi conducted the consecration ceremony while wearing a traditional kurta tunic. Hindu priests performed hymns, and a 4.25-foot statue of deity Ram Lalla was unveiled in the inner sanctuary of the temple. Modi planted a lotus in front of the black stone deity, which was adorned with gold ornaments. Indian Air Force helicopters showered the temple with flower petals.

Around 7,500 dignitaries, including politicians, diplomats, Indian celebrities, and religious leaders, attended the Ram temple's consecration. Tens of thousands of pilgrims travelled from all across the nation to Ayodhya to express their love for Lord Ram and the newly constructed temple.

ALSO READ: India's Modi inaugurates new Hindu temple in Ayodhya

Yet opposition parties boycotted the inauguration alleging Modi was using it for political gains and political analysts said that opening could help Modi to win favor with voters in India.

General elections in India are scheduled to take place in April or May and political experts said that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party that governs India will be seeking votes in the temple's name in a country where 80 per cent of the population is Hindu.

Lord Ram is a central figure in Indian mythology and spirituality and the ruling party has been pushing for the temple for decades. "Today, our Ram Lalla will no longer live in a tent. He will reside in a splendid temple," Modi declared, indicating the religious fulfillment of a centuries-old wait.

Professor Amit Rajendra Dholakia, with the Department of Political Science of The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, in Gujarat, said: “It is an attempt to consolidate Hindu vote bank because the BJP, a leading political organization, has been attempting to set up the temple for more than three decades. Today marks the success of this attempt.”

Many local governments declared public holidays in honor of the consecration ceremony, many educational institutions, offices, stock exchanges were closed, and temples all throughout the nation had their own rituals. It was widely observed as a national event.

Coverage of the event, which was aired live throughout India, at Indian diplomatic missions, and at locations throughout the globe, including Times Square in New York late on Sunday, dominated the Indian news media.

ALSO READ: Indian devotees splurge on jets, gold idols as Hindu temple opens

With a billion-dollar government-funded makeover the city was decorated with flowers, saffron flags, Ram pictures, and Modi billboards. The city, believed to be the birthplace of the popular deity Lord Ram, will be able to accommodate about 200,000 visitors or devotees a day.

The temple, which is yet to be completed by the end of 2024, was inaugurated at the same time as Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are getting ready to contest in the election for a record-breaking third straight term. The BJP had been advocating for the temple for decades as a way to celebrate Hindu identity.

“It will have an electrifying impact on the masses, it already has. There is a spiritual angle behind the temple inauguration as millions of Indians have been waiting for the temple,” said Professor Sangit Kumar Ragi, with the Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

“Certainly the temple will have a political impact ahead of the general election. The temple will connect religious sentiment of the masses from east to west and north to south,” Ragi pointed out.

Arun Kumar, 38, a taxi driver, had spent the past 30 days on a pilgrimage walking from Delhi to Ayodhya. "I think of it as the most significant journey of my life. I believe that all Hindus should come to this location to declare that we own this nation and that nobody can stop us,” he told this correspondent.

Ashok Goel, 65, who was born and raised in Ayodhya, said he was “very happy and excited” about the temple for more than three decades. “Now we will see to complete it in front of our eyes,” Goel said.

Hindutva wave will start to blow in favor of BJP specially in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and parts of Bihar, Dholakia emphasized, adding that BP will be beneficiary of this Hindutva sentiment.

Around seventy per cent out of total 543 seats of Indian Parliament are from these states.

However, some top Hindu religious leaders refused to attend the ceremony, alleging a Hindu temple cannot be consecrated until it is finished.

Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, accused Modi for inciting religious tension by inaugurating the temple.

Sunita Viswanath, executive director of a US-based nonprofit group Hindus for Human Rights, said the ceremony was an “electoral stunt” that “should not be happening in the name of my faith.”

“Modi is not a priest, so leading this ceremony for political gain is both technically and morally wrong,” she said in a news release. “This weaponization of our religion tramples what’s left of India’s secular democratic values.”

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily