On August 5, Narendra Modi inaugurated the construction of the contested Ram Mandir. Here, we list some facts about the site and its political background.
1. The event is a milestone for India's Hindu nationalist leadership, that, with the assistance of top BJP leaders, including Modi, helped to organise the mob that demolished the Babri mosque thirty years earlier. The Mosque sat on the site on which the Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple, is being built.
2. The groundbreaking ceremony was planned to be shown in New York’s Times Square, but faced opposition from advocacy groups, as the temple construction over a mosque dealt a severe blow to India's international secular standing.
3. Ram Mandir symbolises India's radical shift towards illiberal majoritarianism, which runs on the idea of maintaining Hindu supremacy in India.
4. In 1992, highly charged Hindu fanatics descended on the 16th century Mughal-era mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state.
5. The desecration and destruction of the mosque was the result of decades-long social engineering carried out by a shadowy movement called The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which was outlawed after one of its members assassinated India's founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, on January 30, 1948.
6. The RSS was inspired by European fascists in the 1920s. It has become India’s largest social welfare organisation.
7. Prime Minister Modi has been a lifelong RSS member. He often pays tribute to its main ideologue, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who justified rape as a weapon against Muslim women.
8. The destruction of the mosque helped India's ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party, which is mentored by the RSS, rise from being a small entity with a negligible vote share, to an invincible political behemoth that now enjoys the largest ever majority in the Indian parliament.
9. For India's far-right Hindus, the demolition of the Babri mosque and construction of Ram Mandir at the same spot, is one of the ways Hindus could punish Muslims for the perceived injustices the Mughal and other Muslim rulers historically committed against their forefathers.
10. In 2019, India’s Supreme Court handed the contested land to a government-formed trust - which would go on to finance the Ram temple construction project.
11. It also gave 5 acres of land elsewhere to Muslims, asking them to end the legal and political battle and build their mosque.
12. The court took into account an archaeological survey that showed the Babri Mosque was built on top of an older structure. Surveyors said it was the mythological Ram temple. But the late Indian historian, Sarvepalli Gopal, said human settlement in modern Ayodhya can only be traced back 2,800 years, whereas the legends of Lord Ram date back 5,000 years.
13. The Ram Temple’s first foundation coincided with the one year anniversary of the removal of disputed Kashmir’s special status, which was a long-standing demand of Hindu nationalists to punish defiant Kashmiris.