PM Modi hails ‘dawn of new era’ as work on controversial temple begins
New Delhi: The Indian town of Ayodhya welcomed Narendra Modi for a ceremony marking the start of construction of a temple on the site where a mosque was razed to the ground by a Hindu mob 28 years ago.
Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party has campaigned for years for the temple to be built at the spot considered to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Ram.
The issue has divided Indians, alienated Muslims, helped propel the BJP to power and thrown its rivals into disarray. Mr Modi last visited Ayodhya in 1991.
“When he came, he said he would only return to the city when work had begun on the temple, not before,” said Kameshwar Chaupal, a priest and member of the trust responsible for building the temple. On Wednesday, Mr Modi offered garlands and prayers to the deity to the sound of conch shells blown by priests in saffron robes.
At the temple site a 40kg silver foundation stone was placed in the ground. Calling it the “dawn of a new era”, Mr Modi said: “India is emotional as decades of wait has ended. For years, our Ram Lalla
[the infant Lord Ram] lived beneath a tent; now he will reside in a grand temple.”
The temple construction is a political and religious milestone for Mr Modi and the BJP. Following a sustained campaign, the party received the go-ahead for the temple last November from the supreme court, which said land should be found elsewhere for a new mosque. The BJP has succeeded in turning the controversial issue of whether the temple should be built into a touchstone of Hindu identity, a marker of the Hindu nationalism that forms part of its core ideology known as Hindutva.
“It is an undoubted victory for Modi. He fancies himself to be a greater icon of Hindutva than the actual temple,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, a political analyst.
Prominent Muslims have said the community was resigned to the decision but fear it could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (top left), takes part in the groundbreaking ceremony in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India.