In a cramped home down a narrow alley in Varanasi, a hard-line Hindu activist flaunts a piece of mosque booty. It is a brick from the 16th-century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, in north India. “I got it on December 6th 1992,” says Sohan Lal Arya, referring to the day the mosque was torn down by a Hindu nationalist mob. Mr Arya and other of its members, including leaders of the now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), claimed the mosque had been built on the birthplace of Ram, a Hindu god.
The destruction of Babri Masjid, which sparked riots in which some 2,000 people died, was the culmination of a years-long campaign by bjp leaders to replace the mosque with a Ram temple. It galvanised the Hindu-nationalist movement, radicalising and recruiting millions of Hindu activists, and helped propel the bjp from the outer margins of Indian politics to become, by 1996, the biggest party in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, inaugurates the long-promised Ram temple in Ayodhya next month, it will complete a staggeringly effective political campaign—from which the bjp leader will aim to wring yet more advantage. The ceremony will be the unofficial launch of his campaign for an election expected in April, at which the bjp could become the first party since 1971 to win a third consecutive majority.
The new Ram temple was made possible by India’s Supreme Court, which in 2019 rewarded the destroyers of the mosque by ruling that the site should be handed to a Hindu trust. Emboldened by this, Hindu activists such as Mr Arya are now targeting thousands of other mosques across India, including one in Varanasi, 200km (125 miles) south of Ayodhya. Built in 1669 by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the city’s Gyanvapi mosque sits on land formerly occupied by a Hindu temple. A long-standing local Hindu grievance, this has recently been raised by bjp activists to a matter of national importance. Some, including Mr Arya’s wife, claim to have found extant temple remains at the site.
The mosque is now surrounded by high metal fencing and guarded by armed police. As a possible augury of its fate, a neighbouring Hindu temple complex has been massively expanded; it now looms over the disputed mosque. The temple expansion is thanks to the local Lok Sabha member, Mr Modi. The prime minister has vowed to restore the area to its “lost glory”.
This story was originally published in economist.com. Read the full story here .