NEW DELHI (Agencies): India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated a contentious Hindu temple built on the former site of the 16th century Babri Masjid. The mosque, named after the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur, was demolished by a mob of Hindu extremists in 1992.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu nationalist groups played a key role in the incident and its bloody aftermath. The country saw the worst communal riots since independence, with 2,000 people killed, most of them Muslims.
The inauguration of the temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Ram in the city of Ayodhya earlier today was attended by thousands of official guests, including politicians, diplomats, Bollywood stars and cricketers. They were joined by hundreds of thousands of devotees and pilgrims who made their way to the flashpoint city from across India.
The establishment of the temple fulfils a longstanding demand by Hindu nationalists, who have claimed that the site was the birthplace of Ram.
In 2019, India’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Hindus, giving ownership of the land to a Hindu trust, and also ordering five acres of land to be allocated for the Muslim community as an alternative site to build a mosque.
According to Reuters, the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) will oversee the construction of the mosque, which will commence in May, after this year’s month of Ramadan. It is expected to take three to four years to build and will be named Masjid Muhammad Bin Abdullah, after Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Modi hailed the temple’s opening as the fulfilment of “the dream that many have cherished for years” and also stated that: “January 22, 2024 is not merely a date in the calendar but heralds the advent of a new era.”
However, the move has been widely seen as political and one that has been a campaign pledge for the BJP, with general elections scheduled to take place in the next few months, in which the prime minister will be seeking a third term in power.