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Many in India celebrate as Modi's consecration of controversial, unfinished temple


Many people in India are celebrating after Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the consecration of a controversial, unfinished temple in the holy city of Ayodhya. But critics say he's done it with an eye to upcoming elections. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: It was a day that felt like a national celebration.


HADID: School was out, bunting on the roads, processions. And it culminated in this. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, entered the temple's most sacred site, where an idol of Lord Ram as a child was unveiled, his face carved into a smile. Modi lay face down in prostration. Some journalists watching in the press room cheered.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: So did pilgrims on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: In a speech after the consecration, Modi told India...


PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says, "our Ram was in a tent. Now he's in a temple." He says Ram is India's faith. Sentiments like this concern many among India's liberals and its Muslim minority of some 200 million people. That's because this temple was built on the site of a 16th century mosque that was torn down by Hindu nationalists in 1992.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: That act triggered communal violence that killed thousands, mostly Muslims. The rioters believed the mosque was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. That claim was championed by the BJP, the party now led by Modi. After the Supreme Court handed over the site to Hindu litigants, Modi laid the foundation stone for the temple four years ago.

ZIYA US SALAM: The idea is to assert Hindu supremacy.

HADID: Ziya Us Salam is a journalist and author of "Being Muslim In Hindu India." He says the consecration, to Indian Muslims, looks like this.

US SALAM: There is one religion which is supreme in the country, and everybody else who is a non-follower of that religion is reduced to the status of a second-class citizen.

HADID: But the idea that Hinduism should reign supreme isn't controversial among Hindu nationalists. To them, Modi consecrating the temple is a sign of respect.


HADID: The Digital Baba is a Hindu influencer and monk in training. He was livestreaming when we spoke to him.

THE DIGITAL BABA: Ram, for Indians - great character as a god, as a human being, and no have a temple. No have a home.

HADID: And now he has a home.


HADID: Yeah.

THE DIGITAL BABA: And thanks to BJP and Modi Sarkar, he is doing best, best, best.

HADID: Critics say this is all well-timed to help Modi win a third term in upcoming elections. They note the temple he consecrated isn't even finished yet. Ashutosh Varshney is the director of the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University.

ASHUTOSH VARSHNEY: It's hugely popular, and in large parts of India, it reflects a national mood. It should certainly help Mr. Modi during the elections.

HADID: Back in Ayodhya, on a Muslim-dominated street, folks keep a low profile. Boys play cricket.


HADID: Muslim community leader Azam Qadri says he feels relieved that the temple is finally consecrated even though it's not the outcome they wanted.

AZAM QADRI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says he hopes his community can finally move on. But Qadri himself is under armed guard. He says he's been attacked because he controls Muslim properties near the temple. It's lucrative land. Property prices are shooting up. And as night fell in Ayodhya, firecrackers shot up, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: They unsettle the monkeys that loiter about the holy city. And two communities went to bed - one celebrating, the other uneasy. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Ayodhya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.