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Why the temple that PM inaugurated at Babri site could, in time, be called Modi Mandir

By Rosamma Thomas* 

A webinar on recent developments in India on the occasion of Republic Day saw one speaker mention that if the mosque that Mughal Emperor Babur built at Ayodhya was named Babri Masjid, then the temple that Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated at the same site on January 22, 2024 could, in time, be named “Modi Mandir”. 
Niranjan Mukhopadhyay, author of "Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times", recalled that he was once asked what inspired Modi, besides power and holding on to prime ministership – and he recalled replying that PM Modi would like, 50 years later, to have a statue of himself beside 182-metre Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat, only perhaps twice taller.
Poet and activist Meena Kandasamy, who was also a panelist at the discussion, drew attention to the fact that those engaged in political education must stop focusing on the figure of Narendra Modi – it is no consolation that the Sankaracharyas, for instance, stayed away from the inauguration of the temple in Ayodhya – their reasons for opposing Modi were not the secular reasons of separation of state and religion; would Indians be happy to have a Sankaracharya inaugurate this temple? 
The image that one must never forget is that the 16th century mosque was demolished, in an act that the Supreme Court ruled was criminal, she said, adding that in a country with as long and rich a history as India, any spot that is dug up would reveal layers beneath, even if it was just an excavation in her own garden.
Kandasamy noted that besides the polarization of society along communal lines, the Hindutva project was also deeply misogynistic, sweeping women back into the home and making it hard for them to have dignified jobs or public lives; toxic masculinity marks all fascist dispensations. 
Noteworthy, she pointed out, is the fact that the Ram temple movement gained momentum just as high caste youth were embroiled in the agitation against the Mandal Commission report, opposed to the extension of reservation for Other Backward Castes. The temple agitation came as a ruse to distract from the emergence of the lower echelons of the caste system into greater freedom of opportunity, after generations of deprivation.
She pointed to how focus must remain on the issues that the Hindutva project would like citizens to gloss over – the acute lack of employment opportunities, that is returning youth to a state of indentured labour – young people are queuing up to take up manual work in Israel, willing to replace Palestinians who have been displaced; how could the Ayodhya judgment of the Supreme Court remain anonymous? 
And if Rs 8 lakh is all it takes for an Indian to be called affluent, according to a recent report, then how is it that an upper caste person earning that much is still eligible for reservation under the Economically Weaker Section category? Kandasamy spoke of the need for the Opposition to more clearly articulate its opposition to crony capitalism and the narrative of “decolonization” that Hindutva unleashes, while seeking a return to a far-from-ideal past that was oppressively hierarchical.
As the Indian Republic turned 75, speakers noted that democracy had never been more fragile; in two months, the country will be swept into general elections; will the unfinished Modi Mandir really be a vote magnet?
---
*Freelance journalist

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