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Hindu temple unites most – but opens some sores


Wednesday’s planned groundbreaking for the construction of a Lord Ram temple, while polarizing leading political parties, is also eliciting murmurs of protest from some leaders. The detractors see it as an event dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which controls the central and state governments, and its allies and object to the ceremony being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi will perform the groundbreaking ceremony in the ancient town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state on the banks of the Saryu river. Most opposition leaders have not been invited to participate in the historic event. Yet, in a country of more than a billion Hindus, political parties want to be seen to be on the right side of the sentiment associated with the temple.

The number of attendees was curtailed in part because of the surging number of coronavirus cases – over 1.85 million with more than 50,000 new ones each day for the past week. Covid-19 has been spreading across India after being initially confined mainly to major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

Lord Ram is referred to as Maryada Purshottam, which means honor and righteousness, or a person who performed all his roles and duties in the most ideal and honorable manner. Rumayana, the epic depicting his life, is enacted each year over 10 days in all towns and villages, culminating in Diwali, the festival of lights, in India and some Southeast Asian countries.

“Ram temple at Ayodhya is a symbol of our civilization,’’ said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, national vice president of the BJP. “It has nothing to do with anything communal. In fact it’ll strengthen the emotional integration of India.”

But there are detractors. Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the parliament and the president of All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, said he opposes Modi leading the groundbreaking in Ayodhya because he is the prime minister.

“I object because the prime minister takes an oath on the constitution of India,” Owaisi said on NDTV TV. “Neither the government nor the country belongs to any one particular religion. He has a responsibility towards the constitution. Secularism is integral part of India’s constitution.”

Owaisi has loudly voiced Muslim points of view and sentiments. He said he resented the Supreme Court judgment that granted the mosque site to the Hindus – accepting archaeological evidence that it was indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram. It was forcibly turned into a mosque by Mughal king Babur in 1526. The court gave Muslims an alternative parcel of land for a new mosque a few kilometers away.

Suhas Palshikar, who taught political science at Pune University, supports his position.

“The [Supreme Court] ruling in the Ayodhya case, ordering that Muslims be given an ‘alternative’ site, formalized the peripheralization of the Muslims both spatially and politically, while the celebrations openly involving state machinery underscore the officialization of the status of Hindu religion as the basis of the new republic,’’ Palshikar wrote in the Indian Express on August 4.



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