AYODHYA, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed “golden history” was written Wednesday as he launched construction of a new Hindu temple at a flashpoint religious site that...
AYODHYA, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed “golden history” was written Wednesday as he launched construction of a new Hindu temple at a flashpoint religious site that has sparked some of the country’s bloodiest sectarian violence.
The colourful ceremony in Ayodhya, with Modi surrounded by saffron-clad priests, came on the first anniversary of the removal of the special status enjoyed by divided Kashmir, India’s onlyMuslim-majority region.
His critics see him as remoulding the officially secular country of 1.3 billion as a Hindu nation at the expense of India’s 200 million Muslims, and taking it in an authoritarian direction.In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed the centuries-old mosque there that they believed had been built on the birthplace of Ram, an important deity, killing 2,000 Muslims in the riots that followed. A lengthy legal battle ensued, but in November 2019, India’s top court awarded the site to Hindus, allowing a temple “touching the sky” to be built on top of the ruined mosque. Modi, 69, sharing a stage with the head of the RSS militaristic hardline Hindu group, compared the building of the temple to India’s struggle for independence from Britain.
The BJP had long seen the special status enjoyed by the part of Kashmir controlled by India as a historical wrong, and on August 5 last year, Modi abolished it. An accompanying security operation turned the region into a fortress for weeks, with all telecommunications cut and thousands taken into custody. Even now, India has “maintained stifling restraints on Kashmiris in violation of their basic rights”, according to Human Rights Watch.
People from outside Kashmir are now allowed to buy land for the first time, igniting fears Modi wants to change the region’s demographic makeup with an Israel-style “settler” project. Fearing protests ahead of the anniversary, thousands of Indian troops imposed a tight curfew in Kashmir and the streets were largely deserted.