With Ram temple, Modi edges India closer to a Hindu state

With Ram temple, Modi edges India closer to a Hindu state
The Ram temple's triumphant inauguration represents a dangerous victory for India's far-right Hindu nationalist project, writes Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya.
6 min read
The Ram temple is built on the site of the demolished Babri Mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992. [Getty]

The highly publicised inauguration of the Ram Mandir, or Ram temple, in Ayodhya, Northern India, took place on 22 January 2024 - just four days ahead of India’s 75th Republic Day on 26 January - at the site of the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992.

The inauguration featured Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a central role, performing religious rituals alongside priests and the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an openly fascist organisation modelled on Mussolini’s blackshirts and closely aligned with Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

There are several disturbing aspects of the inauguration that point to the Modi government’s advancement of its Hindu fascist agenda and attempt to turn India into a Hindu state. The most telling of these aspects is the context around the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

"Modi has framed the inauguration of the Ram temple as a universally Indian celebration rather than as part of a far-right political agenda - a key strategy of Hindu nationalism"

Demolition and disenfranchisement

On 6 December 1992, a crowd of 150,000 people demolished the almost 500-year-old Babri mosque, inspired by speeches by members of the BJP and affiliated organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The Hindu right claimed that the mosque was the site of an ancient temple to the Hindu Lord Ram, and was in fact also the exact spot of Ram’s birth. Riots across the country followed the demolition, with over 2000 people murdered, mainly Muslims.

The fact that the inauguration of the temple, 31 years later, was a government-led event featuring the prime minister so prominently is an attempt to legitimise the demolition - a reminder that the country has now been led by the Hindu right for almost a decade.

In fact, with a general election approaching in April-May 2024 - which Modi seems set to win - many have criticised the government for using the inauguration for political gain as well as undermining India’s secular constitution through the politicising of a Hindu event.

Modi has framed the inauguration of the Ram temple as a universally Indian celebration rather than as part of a far-right political agenda - a key strategy of Hindu nationalism.

Last week, on 28 January, Modi reflected on the inauguration on his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat, claiming that “Everyone’s feelings are the same…Ram is in everyone’s heart”.

Such rhetoric - equating devout Hindus with the general population of India - is consistent with a wider, explicitly stated plan already in motion amongst the Hindu right: to transform the country into a Hindu state and eliminate its Muslim population.

Laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), attempt to disenfranchise Muslims through forcing them to prove their Indian citizenship.

These are terrifyingly concrete steps towards Modi’s dream of India becoming a nation of devout Hindus and followers of Lord Ram, where ‘everyone’ celebrates events such as the inauguration of the Ayodhya temple.

Following the inauguration, Modi also claimed that “Lord Ram has arrived [home]”, invoking not only the Hindu tale of Ram - in which Ram is exiled - but also the Hindu right claim that the site was Ram’s birthplace.

This is a prime example of the Modi regime weaponising Hindu mythology to suit its own political agenda and rewriting of India’s history.


Undermining the constitution

This is far from the first time Modi and his government have repeatedly equated Hinduism with India, and Hindus with Indians.

For example, on 26 November 2022 - India’s ‘Constitution Day’, or the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s national constitution in 1950, shortly after gaining independence - the government issued an order calling for the day to be observed with events on the theme ‘India: Mother of Democracy’.

However, the concept note published by the government on this theme explicitly pushes a Hindu supremacist narrative, discussing “the survival of Hindu culture and civilisation in the face of 2000 years of invasions by alien ethnicities and cultures”.

The mention of “alien ethnicities” is clear code for Muslims; this narrative completely undermines the unity and harmony between Hindus and Muslims that characterised India for centuries, including during the anti-colonial struggle.

Even more explicitly, this same concept note refers to the “Hindu state” as per a “Hindu political theory”, once again legitimising a religion-based, far-right political agenda which contrasts starkly with India’s secular constitution.

"This is far from the first time Modi and his government have repeatedly equated Hinduism with India, and Hindus with Indians"

The Modi regime’s consistent undermining of the constitution is no accident: the RSS has long stated its aim of replacing the constitution with the Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu text. The Manusmriti is known for its anti-Dalit and patriarchal content, encouraging violence against Dalits and the confinement of women, as well as stating that women are “impure” if they lack “knowledge of Vedic texts”.

The employment of such a text as a replacement for the Indian constitution will allow the government to introduce hugely regressive legislation around Dalit and women’s rights - and will likely further their ongoing authoritarianism by making it harder to protest against such measures.

The fact that the inauguration of the Ram temple took place just days before Indian Republic Day, a celebration of the constitution, is another alarming sign. On the Maan Ki Baat show, Modi linked the constitution with the inauguration, claiming that “the rule of Lord Ram was…a source of inspiration for the makers of our Constitution”.

This is a dangerous assertion; the vision for independent India laid out in the Indian constitution was far from that of a Hindu supremacist state. The constitution was written by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit scholar, social reformer, advocate for Dalit rights and author of ‘Annihilation of Caste’.


Modi’s implication that the inauguration of the temple - a Hindu nationalist event - is somehow in line with the constitution is thus entirely disingenuous. In fact the government is attempting to entirely undermine the constitution not only through the long term Hindu right goal of replacing it with the Manusmriti, but also through the everyday erosion of democracy and consistent state-sponsored attacks on Dalits, Muslims, Christians, progressive activists and journalists and other minorities.

The significance of the inauguration of the Ram temple on the week of Indian Republic Day cannot be underestimated.

This was not a harmless Hindu ceremony for the Indian people as Modi claims it to be, but a key step towards India becoming a Hindu state led by fascists.

Now more than ever, the international community must stand in solidarity with all those resisting this descent into fascism in the name of saving the democracy upon which post-independence India was founded.

Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya is a writer, activist and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine, interested in arts and culture and social movements.

Follow her on Twitter: @AnanyaWilson

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