Modi set to remake India as a Hindu nation

Jan 27, 2024
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

One of the sure bets this year is for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third term in federal elections which are scheduled to take place in the first half of 2024.

Last year, his Bharatiya Janata Party won most of the state elections that took place and India also became the most populous country in the world, passing China. There was little opposition to any of Modi’s policies, either from abroad or within the country.

Yet, it appears that Modi does not want to take even the slightest chance that he will not succeed. That accounts for the fact that on 22 January, he personally inaugurated a temple in Ayodhya honouring the Hindu deity, Ram, and cementing himself in the minds of the 80% who are Hindus as their own man.

The site in Ayodhya is of significance to Hindus in that it marks the place where a mosque was razed in 1992, supposedly because the Muslim house of worship was built where a Hindu temple was razed in the 16th century by the Mughals who ruled India at the time. Ayodhya is claimed to be the birthplace of Ram.

Modi’s party, the BJP, reportedly also has plans to remove parts of mosques that abut temples in the towns of Mathura and Kashi.

Modi has made no secret of his desire to remake India as a Hindu nation. The country’s founders established a secular republic but Modi wants a Hindu rashtra. And it would not be a surprise if his government, if it gets the numbers this year, goes ahead with renaming India as Bharat.

During the inauguration, Modi said: “Today, our Ram has come. After centuries of patience and sacrifice, our Lord Ram has come. It is the beginning of a new era.”

When the Ayodhya mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, was demolished by militant Hindus it sparked widespread riots in India and abroad. It was such a sensitive issue for Muslims that even in Dubai, where protests are banned, expatriate Muslims were permitted to protest peacefully.

The authorities watched over the protests like hawks and deported the few unruly elements who took advantage of the protests to smash up shops owned by Indians. Within India, some 2000 people were killed in the protests.

The new temple has cost about $380 million to build and is spread over 28 hectares. It is yet to be completed, yet the ceremony marks the unofficial beginning of Modi’s campaign for a third term.

The prime minister undertook a tour of many temples in the run-up to the ceremony, spending 11 days in purification rituals. He did not leave it to Hindu priests to perform the ceremony.

Modi has created a culture where blaming him or his party for anything is interpreted as criticism of Hindu values. This is similar to what has happened in Israel, where any criticism of the state’s policies are categorised as anti-semitism.

The demolition of the Ayodhya mosque led to further deaths in 2002, when Muslims set fire to a train in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, carrying Hindus returning from the town. Hindus retaliated, slaughtering nearly 1000 Muslims.

Modi has been accused of complicity in the riots but was later cleared by a court. A BBC documentary that brought up this accusation last year was banned in India. Coincidentally, the British TV outlet faced questions about its financial affairs in India shortly thereafter.

Politically, 2023 was a good year for Modi. India staged the G20 summit in September, a Quad meeting in May on the sidelines of the G7, and India signed a defence pact with the US in June with Modi making a state visit to Washington.

While there have been hiccups along the way – Canada accused India of being involved in the death of an activist and the US charged an Indian official with attempting to kill a Khalistan supporter – these have not led to any change in India’s attitude.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is the only leader to have won three straight elections. Barring a major change in national sentiment, Modi is set to equal this achievement.

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