Battle of narratives over Temple inauguration The Statesman 30 Jan 2024
The inauguration of the Ram Mandir by PM Modi last week was witnessed by millions across the globe. Indian diaspora celebrated the occasion with gusto in their home countries. This made the globe aware of the significance of the event. Within India, it bound the nation as one, bringing nationalism to fore. Rarely has the nation witnessed the kind of euphoria as it did during the inauguration. Its acceptability received a boost with almost no violence on religious processions celebrating the occasion across the country.
For days, Ayodhya has been packed with Lakhs of peaceful devotees seeking a darshan, managing which has been a challenge to state and temple authorities. Repeated requests to the public to delay their visits has had little impact.
The inauguration gave a boost to the BJP as national elections draw close. Its boycotting by the opposition will be played up in forthcoming campaigns. The event was closely observed and commented upon across the world. Comments varied depending on how the nation or publication views India. The fact remains that there are organizations and institutions unwilling to accept that a former colonial Asian state is challenging the authority of the grand old west.
Taiwan’s foreign affairs minister, Joseph Wu, mentioned that the world is divided into two categories, ‘those who are going to fall in love with India and those who already have.’ Well wishes on the inauguration flowed from Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Nepal. New Zealand Minister, David Seymour, sent a congratulatory message mentioning, ‘I wish to congratulate everyone in India, including PM Modi.’ UN General Assembly President, Dennis Francis said, ‘Delighted to arrive in New Delhi when the country is celebrating its second Diwali.’
At the same time, there were critics. The nature of criticism depended on the leaning of the media house. A few sample headlines would add credence. The New York Times headline stated, ‘Modi opens a giant temple, a triumph toward a Hindu-first India.’ It added, ‘the temple is on the site of a centuries-old mosque destroyed in a Hindu mob attack that set a precedent of impunity against Muslims.’ A Washington Post headline read, ‘A temple to a top Hindu deity was built over a destroyed mosque in India. Here is why it matters.’
In Europe, the BBC headline read, ‘India PM Modi inaugurates Hindu temple on razed Babri mosque site.’ The Guardian stated, ‘Modi inaugurates Hindu temple on site of razed mosque in India.’ The Daily Mail termed the temple as the ‘Hindu Vatican.’ The Financial Times headlined, ‘India’s Narendra Modi rides Hindu nationalism wave in Ayodhya temple opening.’
Al Jazeera, a Qatar based news outlet, had as its headline, ‘India’s Modi opens Ram temple built on site of demolished mosque in Ayodhya.’ China Daily’s headline read, ‘Modi opens unfinished Hindu temple in Ayodhya in grand style.’ A near similar report was issued by Xinhua.
The OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), under instigation from Pakistan, criticized the construction. The OIC objection mentioned that it ‘denounces these actions aimed at obliterating Islamic landmarks represented by the Babri Mosque, which has stood tall in the exact location for five centuries.’ India rejected the OIC statement, mentioning, ‘Government of India categorically rejects OIC Secretariat’s unwarranted and narrow-minded comments.’
The Pakistan foreign ministry, which was expected to negatively comment, mentioned, ‘A temple built on the site of a demolished mosque will remain a blot on the face of India’s democracy for times to come.’ It also called on the UN to ‘save Islamic heritage sites in India.’ India retaliated by stating, ‘the absurdity of a serial violator of minority rights commenting on the treatment of minorities in another nation is not lost on anyone.’
Critics ignore the fact that it took the Indian supreme court ten years to conclude the case and issue its verdict after assessing every possible angle. There was no arbitrary decision either by the government or the courts. While western media commented negatively, global government spokespersons made no statements.
While India was criticized, despite following the rule of law, there was silence when in 2020, Erdogan, the Turkish President, reconverted the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine Christian church, into a Mosque. Paul Antonopoulos, the editor of Greek City Times tweeted that Greece, after independence, began reconverting Mosques to churches. In Pakistan, temples are broken down and mosques built in its place, over which there is silence.
The Ram Mandir is expected to be the biggest draw in tourism in India, likely to surpass the Taj Mahal. Erik Solheim, a Norwegian Green politician and diplomat mentioned on X (formerly Twitter), ‘It will be one of the largest tourist attractions in the world. Its construction has created a euphoria unheard of in recent years.’
Micheal Kugelman writes. ‘With Ram Mandir, he (PM Modi) is sparing no effort to further position himself for electoral success, resorting to the tried-and-true tactics that have long energized his supporters and enraged his critics.’ There is no doubt that the inauguration of the temple will impact votes in the forthcoming elections.
The re-election of Modi for a third consecutive term would be unpalatable to many. India’s growth, independent foreign policy, determination to steer clear of western alliances and refusing to be pressured, while adopting an India-first policy has resulted in the growth of anti-India lobbies. For them, an alliance at the centre, which can be controlled and manipulated, would be ideal. The fact that the inauguration would benefit him politically has added to biases in western media publications.
As Jaishankar stated recently, ‘I expect it (battle of narratives) to reach a crescendo in the first 6 months of this year… As elections come closer…they will actually start to attack the process if it looks like it’s going a way in which the narrative drivers don’t like… They will attack the Supreme Court and Election Commission. We’ve got to figure this out and we have to fight back.’
The current dispensation would reap benefits of the inauguration in the upcoming elections. This was evident when the PM tweeted, ‘The first decision I have taken after returning from Ayodhya is that our government will launch “Pradhan mantri Suryodaya Yojana” with the target of installing rooftop solar on 1 crore houses.’