Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

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Members of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) watch a live telecast on a screen of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) participating in the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhaya, at the Gujarat BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar on August 5, 2020. (AFP)
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A man takes photographs with his mobile phone of a rangoli, a Hindu ritual art design, representing a model of the Ram Temple, at the Gujarat Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) headquarters in Gandhinagar on August 5, 2020, to mark the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhaya. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2020

Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

  • In a controversial judgment in November last year, the Supreme Court allocated 2.7 acres of land to Hindu petitioners

NEW DELHI: In a highly provocative speech following the groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction of a Hindu temple at a controversial site that has been contested by Muslims for decades, Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the “beginning of a golden era” for the country.

“It’s the beginning of a golden era. The wait of centuries is ending,” Modi said after the event on Wednesday, launching the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Until 1992, the site was home to the Babri Mosque, which was razed to the ground by a Hindu mob who believed the place was a holy site for them long before Muslim rulers built the structure there in 1528.

The demolition resulted in some of India’s bloodiest communal violence, in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

“See the amazing power of Lord Ram. Buildings were destroyed, there was a lot of effort to eradicate his existence, but Ram remains in our mind even today,” the premier added.

The move follows a concerted and divisive political campaign by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 1980s and 90s, which led to polarization in the country and catapulted the party to the forefront of national consciousness, with the group becoming a major political force.

After the demolition of the Babri Mosque, the matter went to court and, in a controversial judgement in November of last year, the Supreme Court allocated 2.7 acres of land to Hindu petitioners and a separate 5 acres to Muslims to construct a structure of their choice.

In his speech on Wednesday, Modi compared the event to India’s independence on Aug. 15.

“Like Aug. 15, today’s day holds a similar significance for (the multitudes) of people who devoted and sacrificed their lives for the cause of Ram temple. Today Ram’s birthplace stands liberated,” he said.

Professor Shiv Visvanathan of Sonipat-based O.P. Jindal Global University termed the move “a sad moment in the history of India.”

“It is not only majoritarianism. I think the old dream of constitutional India, which was plural, open-ended and tolerant of minorities, is declining completely,” Visvanathan told Arab News.

In preparation for the event, Ayodhya was decorated in festive colors on Wednesday. Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, however, the government had extended invitations to a select few, with a majority of the 175 guests belonging to the BJP, its patron Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and hardcore Hindu groups. 

Two Muslims, Iqbal Ansari and Mohammed Sharif, were also invited.

“I am happy to have been invited to the event. It’s time to forget the past and move on. The court has given the verdict, and we should accept it,” Ayodhya-based Ansari, who was the original litigant and had fought the disputed site’s case on behalf of Muslims, told Arab News.

“Hindus and Muslims have always lived together, and we should maintain that tradition despite our differences,” he added.

Sharif, on the other hand, was honored for his selfless service after cremating the victims of the religious riots in 1992.

“It was a good gesture by the administration to invite me,” he told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Modi’s decision to inaugurate the temple has drawn sharp criticism from liberal and secular sections of society.

On Wednesday, a group of 300 individuals, including activists, lawyers and members of the National Federation of Indian Women, appealed to Modi to uphold the secular values of the country and not attend the ceremony.

“The prime minister going to Ayodhya to lay the foundation of the temple undermines our secular framework and endorses the majoritarian Hindutva agenda, despite his claims of building an inclusive India. It implies the negation of the Constitutional values,” the signatories said in a statement.

Political experts see the decision as a “major milestone” in the evolution of India as a majoritarian state.

“The problem with Modi is that he is always exclusionary in his politics. India has been turning majoritarian for a long time. Wednesday’s event marks a major milestone in the evolution of India as a Hindu supremacist state,” New Delhi-based political analyst and author of several books Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.

He added that there was a “deliberate design” to choosing Aug. 5 as the day for the ceremony, as it coincides with the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.

“Kashmir is also part of the Hindu nationalistic agenda. Defining religion and nationalism on the twin heads of religious-cultural nationalism is the basic definition of the Hindu majoritarian party. Modi deliberately chose Aug. 5 as a snub to the people of Kashmir; he is deliberately putting a finger in the wounds and asking ‘Is it still painful?’” Mukhopadhyay, who wrote the book “Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times,” added. 

Professor Shiv Visvanathan of Sonipat-based O.P. Jindal Global University termed the move “a sad moment in the history of India.”

“It is not only majoritarianism. I think the old dream of constitutional India, which was plural, open-ended and tolerant of minorities, is declining completely,” Visvanathan told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Dr. Satish Mishra of the New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation said the move was “a triumph of the Hindu majoritarian project.”

“Aug. 5 marks the success of the Hindu majoritarian project launched in the 1980s by BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani,” Mishra told Arab News.

He warned that the BJP would continue using religiously divisive issues to divert the attention of the people from core problems relating to the economy and governance.

“Religious topics will keep on dominating the political discourse. The BJP and other Hindu groups will pick up other religiously contentious issues to keep the focus of the people away from larger issues, like employment and other necessities of life,” Mishra added.


US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

Updated 8 min 35 sec ago

US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

  • Trump and Biden go toe-to-toe on foreign policy, COVID-19 and race
  • Final debate paints two stark pictures of America’s future

NEW YORK: Joe Biden warned Iran would “pay a price” for interfering in the US election if he is elected president.

During a more orderly second debate with President Donald Trump Thursday, the former vice president looked to take the initiative on foreign attempts to influence voters.

Moderator Kirsten Welker asked Biden about revelations from intelligence officials that Russia and Iran had attempted to meddle in the election and obtained voter registration information.

“We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved,” Biden said, “They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

(AFP)

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said this week that Iran used the information to send threatening emails to voters in Florida.  On Thursday, the US Treasury Department responded with new sanctions against five Iranian entities accused of spreading disinformation and division ahead of the election.

Biden’s warning to Iran would have rankled with Trump and his foreign policy team. The president has imposed a maximum pressure policy on Tehran by withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal and imposing tough sanctions.

Trump accuses the previous administration, in which Joe Biden deputized to Barack Obama, of allowing Iran to further its missile program and expand its militias across the Middle East.

On Russia, Biden said Moscow did not want him to get elected, because they know he would be tough on them.

“They know that I know them. And they know me,” Biden said.

Trump said: “There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”

He accused Biden of receiving money from foreign companies.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said, arguing that he had released all of his tax returns, unlike the president.

(AFP)

“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said. 

While the second and final debate ahead of the Nov. 3 election was a calmer affair than the first one, it was laden with attacks. 

The rules were different this time: microphones were muted for two-minute stretches to allow the other an uninterrupted answer. 

Welker kept the contentious rivals under control, and made sure things were clear and organized at the venue in Belmont University in Nashville. She got the best reviews of the night. 

A viewer tweeted: “Kristen Welker is putting on a master class in how to moderate a presidential debate.”

The two candidates squared off on foreign policy, the economy, race, healthcare, and climate change. 

The debate kicked off with exchanges over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 in the US, where most states are seeing a dramatic resurgence of the virus. 

Trump defended the way his administration handled COVID-19. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” he said.

The president argued that the mortality rate has decreased and a vaccine would probably be ready before the end of the year. 

“We’re rounding the turn. We’re learning to live with it,” said Trump. 

“We’re learning to die with it,” replied Biden, who criticized the president for not having a plan to address the crisis.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. 

(AFP)

Pivoting to a report that the current administration could not locate the parents of more than 500 children detained at the border with Mexico and separated from their families, Trump said children are brought across the border by “coyotes and drug cartels.” 

Defending his immigration policies, Trump said the border is now more secure than ever. 

He said he is “trying very hard” to reunite children with their parents. 

Biden called the Trump administration’s inability to locate the parents “criminal.” He said Trump’s family separation policy made America a laughingstock: “It violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

The president then pressed Biden to answer “who built the cages” that were shown in media reports. Biden dodged the answer. 

The cages were built in 2014 by the Obama administration. 

Biden then promised, if elected, to put in motion reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship, protected from deportation, for undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers”.  “We owe them,” Biden said.

Discussion heated up when Welker breached the race topic, as the country continues to contend with civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality.  

Biden said the US has “never, ever lived up” to the promise of liberty and equality for all, a principle upon which it was founded.

Trump said that, other than Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.”

He attacked Biden’s support for the 1994 crime law, which critics say has led to mass incarceration.

But Biden turned to the camera and addressed voters directly:  “You know who I am. You know who he is.” 

Biden called the president a “racist” who “pours fuel on every single racist fire.”

“I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump responded.

Twelve days before the election, American voters were able to watch unfold two visions for the future of their country. It is hard to tell whether the candidates were able to broaden their appeal beyond their own bases and attract the undecided voters, whose numbers are shrinking by the day. 

Millions of them are already standing in long lines outside polling stations, braving night and chilly temperatures, to cast their early, final votes.