Hindu temple built atop razed mosque in India helping Modi boost his political standing

A general view of a temple to Hindu deity Ram on the eve of its consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on January 21, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2024

Hindu temple built atop razed mosque in India helping Modi boost his political standing

  • India’s PM Modi to attend consecration of Hindu temple in Ayodhya on Monday 
  • Modi’s BJP expected to exploit religion for political gain in upcoming elections

NEW DELHI: Three decades after Hindu mobs tore down a historical mosque, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the consecration of a grand Hindu temple at the same site on Monday in a political move to boost his party ahead of a crucial national vote.
Experts say the temple, dedicated to Hinduism’s most revered deity Lord Ram, will cement Modi’s legacy — enduring but also contentious — as one of India’s most consequential leaders, who has sought to transform the country from a secular democracy into an avowedly Hindu nation.
“Right from the beginning, Modi was driven by marking his permanency in history. He has ensured this with the Ram Temple,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, an expert in Hindu nationalism and author of a book on Modi.
Many see the temple’s opening as the beginning of the election campaign for Modi, an avowed nationalist who has been widely accused of espousing Hindu supremacy in an officially secular India. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party is expected to once again exploit religion for political gain in the upcoming national elections in April or May and secure power for a third consecutive term.
Made into a national event by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the temple’s opening in Ayodhya — a small city in northern India that has been a historical flashpoint — is expected to resonate deeply with Hindu voters.
Many of Modi’s supporters see him as responsible for restoring Hindu pride in India, where Muslims make up a little more than 14 percent of the population.
“What is being done in Ayodhya, the kind of scale at which it is being built at the moment is actually going to make it look like the Hindu Vatican, and that is what is going to be publicized,” Mukhopadhyay said. “Modi is not going to lose a single opportunity to try to sell the accomplishment of having built a temple.”
Built at an estimated cost of $217 million, Ram Temple is central to Hindus who believe the Lord Ram was born at the exact spot where Mughal Muslims built Babri Mosque in the 16th century on top of temple ruins. The mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs in December 1992, sparking nationwide riots that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. It set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India and catapulted Modi’s BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
In the early 1990s, then a little-known local leader in his native Gujarat state, Modi also helped organize public agitation that aimed to shore up support for the construction of what is now Ram Temple at the former Babri Mosque site.
Muslim groups waged a decadeslong court battle for the restoration of Babri Mosque. The dispute ended in 2019 when, in a controversial decision, India’s Supreme Court called the mosque’s destruction “an egregious violation of the rule of law,” but granted the site to Hindus. The court granted Muslims a different plot of land in an isolated area.
That fraught history is still an open wound for many Muslims, and some say the temple is the biggest political testament yet to Hindu supremacy.
“There is a fear that this government and all the affiliates, they want to wipe out all traces of Muslim or Islamic civilization from the country,” said Ziya Us Salam, author of the book “Being Muslim in Hindu India.”
Indian Muslims have increasingly come under attack in recent years by Hindu nationalist groups, and at least three historical mosques in northern India are embroiled in court disputes due to claims made by Hindu nationalists who say they were built over temple ruins. Hindu nationalists have also filed numerous cases in Indian courts seeking ownership of hundreds of historic mosques.
“On the one side, they want to change names of all cities which have a Muslim-sounding name. On the other side, they want to get rid of virtually every mosque, and the courts are happy to accept petitions on whatever pretext,” Salam said.
Rebuilding the temple at the disputed site has been part of BJP’s election strategy for decades, but it was Modi — rising to power in 2014 on a wave of Hindu revivalism — who finally oversaw that promise after attending its groundbreaking ceremony in 2020.
In the lead-up to its opening, Modi asked people to celebrate across the country by lighting lamps at homes and in local shrines, saying the temple will be a symbol of “cultural, spiritual, and social unity.” His government has also announced a half-day closure of all its offices Monday to allow employees participate in the celebrations. Modi has released postage stamps on Ram Temple, and live screenings of the ceremony are planned across the country.
In many cities and towns, saffron-colored flags, a symbol of Hindu nationalism, have become ubiquitous. A number of other politicians, high profile movie stars, and industrialists are also expected to attend.
But the event will also be marked by some conspicuous absences.
Some opposition leaders are boycotting the ceremony, while denouncing it as a political gimmick and accusing the government of exploiting religion for political gain. Four key Hindu religious authorities have refused to go to the opening, with two of them saying consecrating an unfinished temple goes against Hindu scriptures, and that Modi is not a religious leader and therefore not qualified to lead the ceremony.
Salam said Modi has erased a line between the state and the religion by making his faith a public exhibition that has energized his hardcore supporters.
“When was the last time he acted as a prime minister? There have been so many instances where he has just behaved either as a BJP leader or as a Hindutva mascot, seldom as the prime minister of India,” Salam said.

Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine

Updated 7 sec ago

Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine

  • Tens of thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have fled for safety toward neighboring Bangladesh since mid-May
NAYPVIDAW: Myanmar’s Muslim-minority Rohingya community is once again under threat of attacks and displacement as fighting between a powerful ethnic army and the country’s ruling junta escalates in the western state of Rakhine, according to UN and aid agencies.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have fled for safety toward neighboring Bangladesh since mid-May, which is reluctant to accept more refugees, and many of those remaining in Rakhine are in dire need of humanitarian aid.
The Arakan Army (AA) claimed control of Buthidaung town earlier in May following fighting during which the ethnic army was accused of singling out Rohingya community members. The AA denies the charges.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims, and a junta spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
The AA is now bearing down on the border town of Maungdaw, also home to a large Rohingya population, that the Myanmar junta will likely attempt to hold, raising the spectre of more serious violence.
“We see clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence as the battle for neighboring Maungdaw town has begun — where the military maintains outposts and where a large Rohingya community lives,” a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
The Rohingya have faced decades of persecution and, after a 2017 crackdown by the military, nearly one million fled to Bangladesh, where many now live in crowded refugee camps.
Mohammed Taher, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, said he had recently spoken to a friend in Maungdaw, who described the community living in fear.
“Many want to flee from Rakhine but Bangladesh is not opening its door for Rohingya,” Taher said.
Recent fighting has forced some 45,000 Rohingya to flee to an area along the Naf river on the border, according to a UN estimate.
“No Rohingya will be allowed to enter Bangladesh,” a senior Bangladesh border guard official told Reuters last week.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a 2021 military coup, which spurred a grassroots armed resistance that is fighting the junta alongside long-established ethnic minority rebel groups.

The fighting in Rakhine broke out last November when a ceasefire between the AA and the junta collapsed, leading to a string of battlefield successes for the rebels.
“Faced with mounting losses in Rakhine, the regime has resorted to arming members of the Rohingya ethnic minority to counter the Arakan Army’s advance,” Morgan Michaels of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a May report.
“The AA has reacted with inflammatory rhetoric and violence directed at the Rohingya.”
Amid the renewed conflict, Rohingya civilians are “increasingly being caught in the middle,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest report last week.
The agency estimates that over 350,000 people are displaced across Rakhine after years of conflict, many of whom do not have access to basic services.
“We are witnessing a near total absence of humanitarian assistance for communities who rely on it,” medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said, adding that hospitals in Buthidaung and Maungdaw were closed.
The AA, which has a goal to form an autonomous state, has warned that more battles are coming, asking civilians in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Thandwe to dig bomb shelters or evacuate to safer areas.
The group, which has denied it has targeted the Rohingya, has also asked for international aid for some 200,000 internally displaced people that it says are sheltering in areas under its control in Buthidaung and Maungdaw.
“The situation is incredibly fraught and dangerous,” said Scot Marciel, a former USambassador to Myanmar.
“In some ways, this is an early test of whether a post-military-rule Rakhine State with significant autonomy can work.”

33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan

Updated 4 min 50 sec ago

33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan

  • The blaze fully incinerated the factory and parts of the house
  • Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan and under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death

LAHORE, Pakistan: Police in eastern Pakistan arrested dozens of Muslim men and charged them with attacking a Christian father and son on allegations of desecrating pages of Islam’s holy book, officials said Monday.
The mob went on a rampage Saturday after locals saw burnt pages of the Qur’an outside the two Christian men’s house and accused the son of being behind it, setting their house and shoemaking factory on fire in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, said senior police officer Asad Ijaz Malhi. They also beat up the son.
Malhi said police forces rescued the two wounded men and transported them to a hospital where they were in stable condition, and that at least 33 men were arrested following multiple police raids. Authorities were chasing others who may be involved in the attack, he said.
The blaze fully incinerated the factory and parts of the house, residents and the police said.
Punjab police said in a statement it beefed up security at churches.
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan and under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed on such charges, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.
The latest violence, however, brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when thousands of people set churches and homes of Christians on fire in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province.
Muslim residents at the time also claimed they saw two men desecrating the Qur’an.

Indian police arrest hospital boss after six babies die in fire

Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Indian police arrest hospital boss after six babies die in fire

  • Blaze broke out at the New Born Baby Care hospital in New Delhi’s Vivek Vihar area late Saturday evening
  • The narrow two-story hospital building was squeezed between a row of homes, without space on either side

NEW DELHI: Indian police said Monday they had arrested a doctor and the owner of an unlicensed hospital where six newborn babies died in a fire in a crowded ward without fire exits.
The blaze broke out at the New Born Baby Care hospital in New Delhi’s Vivek Vihar area late Saturday evening.
In the crucial first minutes, it was bystanders who spotted the fire and braved the blaze to rescue the newborns inside.
“We didn’t even name her... I never even held her in my arms,” Anjar Khan, whose 11-day-old daughter died in the blaze, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
Vinod Sharma, who lost his day-old baby boy, blamed the hospital authorities for the tragedy.
“He had a problem with breathing. The doctor had said that he will be fine in a few days,” Sharma was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.
“We didn’t know that the hospital would kill him.”
Fires are common in India due to poor building practices, overcrowding and a lack of adherence to safety regulations.
The narrow two-story hospital building was squeezed between a row of homes, without space on either side, making it hard for fire engines to reach.
“We were trying to control the fire, but there was no way to enter the building and rescue the 12 babies who were trapped,” local fire officer Atul Garg told reporters.
Senior police officer Surendra Chaudhary told AFP that the hospital did “not have a fire exit system.”
Its license had expired in March and the owner had crammed into the ward more than twice the number of beds it previously had permission for.
“The hospital had permission for up to five beds but they had installed more than 10 beds,” he said.
“In view of all this, we have made the arrests.”
Five babies pulled out from the fire are still recovering in another hospital.
The blaze in the hospital on Saturday broke out just hours after a separate fire at an amusement park in India’s western state of Gujarat.
The toll from that fire rose to 28 on Monday, police said.
The blaze — which ripped through a center with a bowling alley and other games crowded with youngsters — was triggered by welding work on the ground floor, chief fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters.
“The CCTV footage clearly shows that a spark from the welding work fell on a stack of corrugated cardboard sheets below, causing the fire,” Kher said.
“This spread very fast as the material was highly flammable.”
The corpses were so badly burned they have not been identified so far.
Police have charged seven people with culpable homicide in connection to that fire.
The two fires came as northern India was gripped by intense heat, with temperatures in Delhi hitting 46.8° Celsius on Saturday, according to the India Meteorological Department.

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

Updated 27 May 2024

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

  • Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday

BEIJING: China will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as well as a number of other Arab leaders in Beijing this week, its foreign ministry said Monday.
The leaders will from Tuesday to Saturday “pay state visits to China and attend the opening ceremony of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
Also among the delegation will be Bahrain’s King Hamad, Tunisian President Kais Saied and the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday.
Xi would also “hold talks with the four heads of state respectively to exchange views on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” Deng said.
The forum would aim to deepen “consensus between China and Arab countries,” Deng said, and would be co-chaired by top diplomat Wang Yi and his Mauritanian counterpart.
They would also “issue a common voice between China and Arab countries on the Palestinian issue,” he said.
China has sought to build closer ties with Arab states in recent years, and last year brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia.
During a tour of the Middle East in January, top diplomat Wang met El-Sisi in Cairo, saying relations had reached their “best level” in history, according to a foreign ministry readout.
And the meeting with Arab leaders in Beijing comes as China seeks to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel.
Wang’s trip to Egypt saw the two countries release a joint statement on the conflict, expressing support for a “comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.”
China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve the fighting.
Israel’s has has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza since Oct. 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Cyclone Remal kills four, snaps power links to millions in India, Bangladesh

Updated 1 min 17 sec ago

Cyclone Remal kills four, snaps power links to millions in India, Bangladesh

  • Fierce winds snap power lines, uproot poles and trees as cyclone Remal lashes coastlines of India, Bangladesh 
  • Bangladesh has moved nearly 800,000 people to storm shelters while India has safely relocated around 110,000

SATKHIRA, Bangladesh: Strong gales and heavy rain brought by cyclone Remal lashed the coastlines of India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least four people and cutting electricity supply to millions before losing intensity.

The year's first cyclone in the region is the latest of the frequent storms that have pounded the low-lying coasts of the South Asian neighbors in recent years, as climate change drives up surface temperatures at sea.

Fierce winds snapped power lines, uprooted poles and trees and snatched the roofs off some tin and thatched houses while the rain and high tides damaged some embankments and flooded coastal areas.

"We have had no electricity since night, my mobile battery will run out anytime," said Rahat Raja, a resident of Bangladesh's coastal district of Satkhira. "By Allah's grace, the cyclone was not as violent as we thought."

Nearly 3 million people in Bangladesh were without electricity, officials of its power ministry said.

Both nations moved nearly a million people to storm shelters, about 800,000 of them in Bangladesh, and roughly 110,000 in India, authorities said.

Two people were killed in Bangladesh as they headed to cyclone shelters at the 11th hour, said disaster management chief Mijanur Rahman.

"People are usually very reluctant to leave their livestock and homes to go to cyclone shelters," he said. "They wait until the last minute when it is often too late."

Authorities will need more time to gauge the full extent of losses, he added.

The storm, packing speeds of up to 135 kph (84 mph), crossed the area around Bangladesh's southern port of Mongla and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India's eastern state of West Bengal late on Sunday, Indian weather officials said.

It began making landfall in India at about 9 p.m., a process that ran for about five hours, weather officials added, before weakening into a cyclone during Monday morning.

Now it is expected to move northeast and weaken further, bringing more rain to states there, they added, as winds and rains eased.

One person was crushed to death by falling concrete in the state capital of Kolkata, authorities said, while a woman died when a mud home collapsed on the island of Mousuni in the Sundarbans delta.

High tides breached some protective river embankments in the area, home to some of the world's largest mangrove forests, which is shared by India and Bangladesh.

Rain flooded roads and disrupted travel in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where authorities gearing for the storm set up nearly 8,000 cyclone shelters and drafted in 78,000 volunteers.

India's navy put ships, aircraft, divers and medical supplies on standby for rescue operations.


Though early warnings and timely evacuation helped avert major casualties, the storm took a heavy toll of utilities in both countries.

Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to many areas in advance to avoid accidents, while many coastal towns were left in the dark as fallen trees and snapped electricity lines disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.

Reports of at least 356 uprooted electricity poles and damage to scores of transformers flowed in early during the storm's landfall in India, said Arup Biswas, the power minister in its state of West Bengal.

Kolkata resumed flights on Monday after more than 50 were cancelled on Sunday, when the storm forced suspension of operations, while suburban train services were also restored.

Rains brought by the storm flooded many streets, television images showed, with reports of wall collapses and at least 52 fallen trees, some of them blocking roads.

Bangladesh suspended operations in its ports of Mongla and nearby Chittagong.