On Monday, a majestic temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Ram is set to be inaugurated at a location in India that millions believe to be his birthplace. This religious ceremony is orchestrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For his supporters, the consecration of the temple — known as Ramlala in Hinduism — marks a triumph of a faith whose followers believe that chanting Ram’s name brings peace and good fortune. It is also a political symbol of Hindu cultural nationalism, which aims to make India a religiously pure and nationalist Hindu state.
But the temple’s inauguration is a polarizing event in India, which is roughly 80 percent Hindu. It comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision last year allowing the construction of a temple at a spot in Ayodhya where a Muslim mosque stood for centuries until it was torn down by a Hindu nationalist mob in 1992, sparking violence across the country that left thousands dead.
The reopening of the temple is a significant point of contention in an election campaign in which Modi is trying to consolidate his support base among India’s Hindu majority and rebrand himself as a leader who has delivered on his promises. The temple is one of his key planks, and he has made clear he will not budge from his position.
On a recent visit to the city, Modi kept a vow he had made in 2020 and promised voters his government wouldn’t compromise on the issue. Senior members of his party are key temple advocates, and he has built the issue into the centerpiece of his campaign.
Those in his party say the temple will help make India a place where Hinduism is respected and protected, as it was before the advent of Islam and other religions. But critics say the temple is part of a larger project to turn a secular democracy into an explicitly Hindu nation, and they accuse Modi of using the issue of Ayodhya to advance that agenda.