India’s contentious Ayodhya temple to open in January

India’s contentious Ayodhya temple to open in January

MUMBAI (AFP): A Hindu temple being built on the ruins of a mosque in the flashpoint Indian town of Ayodhya will open just months before national elections next year, Hindu party officials said Tuesday.

The holy city in northern India has long been a religious tinderbox, providing the spark for some of the country’s worst sectarian violence.

Devout Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya around 7,000 years ago, but that a mosque was constructed on top of his birthplace in the 16th century.

The nearly 500-year-old mosque was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992, sparking riots across the country in which 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a prominent Hindu far-right group whose millions of members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings, and which is closely connected to India’s ruling party, said an idol to Lord Ram would be consecrated on January 22.

“A temple for Shri Ramlala, whose picture is depicted on a page of the original copy of our Constitution, is being built in Ayodhya,” RSS said in a post on social media.

“Shri Ramlala will be consecrated in the (innermost shrine) of the temple”, it added.

After a decades-long legal battle, India’s top court awarded the site to Hindus in 2019.

It was a major victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But for critics, it marked another step in what they see as Modi’s agenda to turn officially secular India into a Hindu nation, marginalising its 200 million Muslims — something he denies.

The temple to Ram has been one of the main pledges of Modi, who laid the foundations of the building in 2020.

Modi is widely expected to win a third term in the national elections due by May next year.

The RSS called for celebrations when the temple idol is consecrated.