Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

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Members of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) watch a live telecast on a screen of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) participating in the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhaya, at the Gujarat BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar on August 5, 2020. (AFP)
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A man takes photographs with his mobile phone of a rangoli, a Hindu ritual art design, representing a model of the Ram Temple, at the Gujarat Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) headquarters in Gandhinagar on August 5, 2020, to mark the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhaya. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2020

Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

  • In a controversial judgment in November last year, the Supreme Court allocated 2.7 acres of land to Hindu petitioners

NEW DELHI: In a highly provocative speech following the groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction of a Hindu temple at a controversial site that has been contested by Muslims for decades, Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the “beginning of a golden era” for the country.

“It’s the beginning of a golden era. The wait of centuries is ending,” Modi said after the event on Wednesday, launching the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Until 1992, the site was home to the Babri Mosque, which was razed to the ground by a Hindu mob who believed the place was a holy site for them long before Muslim rulers built the structure there in 1528.

The demolition resulted in some of India’s bloodiest communal violence, in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

“See the amazing power of Lord Ram. Buildings were destroyed, there was a lot of effort to eradicate his existence, but Ram remains in our mind even today,” the premier added.

The move follows a concerted and divisive political campaign by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 1980s and 90s, which led to polarization in the country and catapulted the party to the forefront of national consciousness, with the group becoming a major political force.

After the demolition of the Babri Mosque, the matter went to court and, in a controversial judgement in November of last year, the Supreme Court allocated 2.7 acres of land to Hindu petitioners and a separate 5 acres to Muslims to construct a structure of their choice.

In his speech on Wednesday, Modi compared the event to India’s independence on Aug. 15.

“Like Aug. 15, today’s day holds a similar significance for (the multitudes) of people who devoted and sacrificed their lives for the cause of Ram temple. Today Ram’s birthplace stands liberated,” he said.

Professor Shiv Visvanathan of Sonipat-based O.P. Jindal Global University termed the move “a sad moment in the history of India.”

“It is not only majoritarianism. I think the old dream of constitutional India, which was plural, open-ended and tolerant of minorities, is declining completely,” Visvanathan told Arab News.

In preparation for the event, Ayodhya was decorated in festive colors on Wednesday. Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, however, the government had extended invitations to a select few, with a majority of the 175 guests belonging to the BJP, its patron Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and hardcore Hindu groups. 

Two Muslims, Iqbal Ansari and Mohammed Sharif, were also invited.

“I am happy to have been invited to the event. It’s time to forget the past and move on. The court has given the verdict, and we should accept it,” Ayodhya-based Ansari, who was the original litigant and had fought the disputed site’s case on behalf of Muslims, told Arab News.

“Hindus and Muslims have always lived together, and we should maintain that tradition despite our differences,” he added.

Sharif, on the other hand, was honored for his selfless service after cremating the victims of the religious riots in 1992.

“It was a good gesture by the administration to invite me,” he told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Modi’s decision to inaugurate the temple has drawn sharp criticism from liberal and secular sections of society.

On Wednesday, a group of 300 individuals, including activists, lawyers and members of the National Federation of Indian Women, appealed to Modi to uphold the secular values of the country and not attend the ceremony.

“The prime minister going to Ayodhya to lay the foundation of the temple undermines our secular framework and endorses the majoritarian Hindutva agenda, despite his claims of building an inclusive India. It implies the negation of the Constitutional values,” the signatories said in a statement.

Political experts see the decision as a “major milestone” in the evolution of India as a majoritarian state.

“The problem with Modi is that he is always exclusionary in his politics. India has been turning majoritarian for a long time. Wednesday’s event marks a major milestone in the evolution of India as a Hindu supremacist state,” New Delhi-based political analyst and author of several books Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.

He added that there was a “deliberate design” to choosing Aug. 5 as the day for the ceremony, as it coincides with the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.

“Kashmir is also part of the Hindu nationalistic agenda. Defining religion and nationalism on the twin heads of religious-cultural nationalism is the basic definition of the Hindu majoritarian party. Modi deliberately chose Aug. 5 as a snub to the people of Kashmir; he is deliberately putting a finger in the wounds and asking ‘Is it still painful?’” Mukhopadhyay, who wrote the book “Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times,” added. 

Professor Shiv Visvanathan of Sonipat-based O.P. Jindal Global University termed the move “a sad moment in the history of India.”

“It is not only majoritarianism. I think the old dream of constitutional India, which was plural, open-ended and tolerant of minorities, is declining completely,” Visvanathan told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Dr. Satish Mishra of the New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation said the move was “a triumph of the Hindu majoritarian project.”

“Aug. 5 marks the success of the Hindu majoritarian project launched in the 1980s by BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani,” Mishra told Arab News.

He warned that the BJP would continue using religiously divisive issues to divert the attention of the people from core problems relating to the economy and governance.

“Religious topics will keep on dominating the political discourse. The BJP and other Hindu groups will pick up other religiously contentious issues to keep the focus of the people away from larger issues, like employment and other necessities of life,” Mishra added.


Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

Updated 18 September 2020

Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

  • The British PM said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in”
  • Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China

MADRID: A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.
City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine center.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.
In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.
The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.
Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.
“We’re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”
In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.
“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.
A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.
People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.
Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.
These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.
Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”
Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
“And all this for what? For nothing!“
Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.
Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert
Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.
The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.