NEW DELHI: Hundreds of right-wing Hindu activists gathered in the Indian city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday demanding the construction of a Hindu temple at the site where the Babri Mosque was demolished by a mob in 1992.
The rally was organized by the World Hindu Congress (VHP), an affiliate of the ultra-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the paternal party of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The VHP described it as “one of the largest congregations of saints and supporters of the temple since 1992.” That year, a large Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque, which was built by the first Mughal ruler Babur.
Right-wing Hindu parties claim that the mosque was built where deity Ram was born.
“More than 200,000 people gathered at Ayodhya to press for their demands,” local journalist Nitesh Singh told Arab News.
VHP Vice President Champat Rai told the crowd: “We’ve gathered here to remind the intellectuals of this country that our quest for a temple didn’t end with the demolition of the mosque in 1992. The fire lit at that time is still burning in our hearts.”
The rally comes ahead of a visit to the site by radical Hindu leader Uddhav Thackeray, who heads the fringe Hindu organization Shiv Sena, an ally of the ruling BJP in Maharashtra state.
“A temple has to be built,” said Thackeray at a press conference on Sunday. “The BJP is very powerful, and if they don’t build a temple they’ll cease to be in power.”
To curb pressure from its allies, the BJP pledged to build a 221-meter-tall statue of Ram, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister announced just hours before the rally.
“We were expecting India’s Supreme Court to decide on the issue sooner, but it has deferred the hearing until January,” said Rakesh Tripathi, a BJP spokesman in Uttar Pradesh. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
eeMost of the 5,000 Muslims living in Ayodhya, which has 46,000 inhabitants, have left the city for fear of violence.
“This minority doesn’t trust the government,” Hajji Asad, a counsellor in Ayodhya, told Arab News. “Ayodhya has become a laboratory for Hindu extremism. The BJP has only one agenda: Building the temple and evoking Muslim-Hindu strife,” he said.
“India is staring at an economic crisis. Unemployment and corruption are on the rise, yet the BJP fails to address these pressing issues, instead polarizing the masses in the name of religion.”
Ayodhya’s Deputy Police Inspector-General Omkar Singh refused to comment to Arab News about the Muslim exodus.
Abdul Jabbar, an advocate in the city, said: “Why has the BJP not mentioned the temple in four years? Why now, with elections around the corner? The BJP’s main concern is victory in 2019.”
Rakesh Tripathi, a BJP official in Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News that Ayodhya “doesn’t have a history of communal conflict.”
He said: “Even after the demolition of the Babri mosque, there was no Hindu-Muslim conflict. Rumors are being spread to give a false impression of what’s happening in the area.”
The BJP is standing by its pledge to build a temple, he said, adding that the Supreme Court “is taking undue time in deciding on the case, provoking unrest among Hindu residents, hence the rally.”
Apoorvanand, a political analyst and professor at Delhi University, said the temple had never disappeared from the BJP’s agenda.
The party “has steadfastly worked on its polarizing agenda over the past four years,” he told Arab News, adding that it has “succeeded in altering the political discourse” by politicizing Hindus.
He said: “Never before have minorities felt so alienated. Nationalism, not development, has always dominated the BJP’s agenda.”