On 5 August, exactly one year after the Indian government led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) diluted the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and put the Kashmir Valley under a state of indefinite lockdown, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, ceremoniously inaugurated the construction of the ‘Bhavya Ram Mandir’ – grand Ram Temple – in Ayodhya.

This he did by laying a silver brick at the site of the proposed temple during a lavish ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ (ground-breaking ceremony), awash with saffron and abuzz with the hum of mantras (Hindu chants). The event, organised and funded by the government, was markedly smaller than what was originally planned, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The site on which the proposed Ram Mandir will be built is regarded by many Hindus as the ‘janambhoomi’ (birthplace) of Lord Ram. But it is also where a medieval mosque – the Babri Masjid – once stood. Built in the early 16th century by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, the historical monument was demolished by members of the right-wing Hindutva organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and its affiliates on 6 December 1992.

Preluded by a ‘Ram Rath Yatra’ – a grand monthlong, pan-India rally organised by the BJP and its affiliates in 1990 to demand the construction of a Ram Temple over Babri Masjid – the violent destruction of the mosque eventually proved to be a turning point in the history of modern India. In many ways, the cataclysmic events of the early 1990s, including the demolition, are directly responsible for the mainstreamisation of Hindutva politics and the meteoric rise of the BJP in national politics.

The hotly-contested site in Ayodhya was the subject of a prolonged legal dispute since 1885 when a Hindu priest called Raghubir Das filed a plea at the Faizabad (district in which Ayodhya lies) court to build a makeshift Ram Temple under a canopy adjacent to the mosque. Since then, the case has traveled through many courts, but no resolution was reached.

In 1949, two years after India’s independence, members of right-wing organisations forcibly placed an idol of Ram Lalla (infant Lord Ram) under the central dome outside the mosque. This gave fresh steam to the Hindu claim over the site. 61 years later, in 2010, the Allahabad High Court ordered a three-way division of the disputed site between Hindus, Muslims and a third Hindu Vaishnavite group called Nirmohi Akhara. But the Hindu claimants, unsatisfied with the trilateral split, challenged the verdict before the Supreme Court.

Finally, on 9 November 2019, the Supreme Court granted the entire 2.77 acre of the disputed site to the Hindus, and ordered the government to form a trust for the construction of a Ram Temple there. The five-member bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, delivered the controversial order despite making two paradoxical conclusions – that there was no clear evidence of the Babri Masjid being built on top of the ruins of an erstwhile Ram Temple, and that the 1992 demolition of the mosque was an illegal act.

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While this week’s ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ ceremony by Prime Minister Modi is being hailed by many, most prominently by those who sympathise with the ruling BJP regime, as a historic reclamation of Lord Ram’s birthplace, others have vehemently criticised it as a naked display of Hindu supremacy and majoritarian anti-Muslim politics. Many are stunned at the brazenness with which the government of a constitutionally secular country like India has deployed state resources and funds to erect a Hindu temple, that too at a site where a criminal demolition took place less than three decades ago.

Here are twenty-one handpicked opinion pieces and articles that offer a critical view into the Ram Mandir affair and the politics around it in the specific context of the 5 August ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ ceremony.

  1. Sruthisagar Yamunan, Scroll.in, 6 Aug 2020 – Modi’s speech in Ayodhya marks a decisive turn away from secularism for India
  2. Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Eleventh Column, 6 Aug 2020- A New India, à la Hindutva
  3. Harsh Mander, Scroll.in, 6 Aug 2020 – With the Ayodhya ceremony, has the inclusive India of my dreams been lost forever?
  4. Humra Quraishi, National Herald, 6 Aug 2020 – Of Babri Masjid, secularism and idea of India
  5. Mani Shankar Aiyar, The Hindu, 6 Aug 2020 – Secular fundamentalism in a time of bhoomi pujan
  6. Siddhartha Deb, The Guardian, 6 Aug 2020 – Modi’s acolytes have reminded India’s Muslims just what he thinks of them
  7. Devyani Onial, The Indian Express, 6 Aug 2020 – From assertive ‘Jai Shri Ram’, a reason to move to gentler ‘Jai Siya Ram’
  8. Mihir Sharma, ThePrint.in, 6 Aug 2020 – With Ram Mandir, Modi has reversed the tide of history more than any other global leader
  9. Aarthi Ramachandran, Deccan Herald, 6 Aug 2020 – BJP’s bhoomi pujan for a new Mandir in the Hindu heart
  10. Ira Bhaskar, Hindustan Times, 6 Aug 2020 – August 5: A tribute to the values of the Republic
  11. Rana Ayyub, Washington Post, 5 Aug 2020 – India marks another day of erasure and insult against its Muslim citizens
  12. Siddharth Varadarajan, TheWire.in, 5 Aug 2020 – Demolition Men Do Not Build Nations, They Destroy Them
  13. Arundhati Roy, TheWire.in, 5 Aug 2020 – India’s Day of Shame
  14. Saba Naqvi, The Indian Express, 5 Aug 2020 – In Ayodhya will unfold a project of building, and erasure
  15. Nilanjana Mukhopadhyay, The Quint, 5 Aug 2020 – Is Modi’s Return To ‘Jai Siya Ram’ For Effect Or Mass Consumption?
  16. Shivam Vij, ThePrint.in, 5 Aug 2020 – Bhoomipujan 2020 is like Balakot 2019, the surgical strike that washes all sins
  17. Aditya Menon, The Quint, 5 Aug 2020 – Ram Mandir: Which Secular Leaders Hailed Bhoomi Pujan & Who Didn’t
  18. Betwa Sharma, Huffington Post India, 5 Aug – Ram Temple: How ‘Legal’ And ‘Proper’ Was PM Modi’s Presence In Ayodhya? Prof Faizan Mustafa Explains
  19. Suhas Palshikar, The Indian Express, 4 Aug 2020 – At Ayodhya, we will see dismantling of the old, and the bhoomi pujan of the new republic
  20. Pragya Tiwari, The Quint, 4 Aug 2020 – Ayodhya, After Ram Mandir, Will You Go Back to Being My Home Town?
  21. Sajjan Kumar, The Hindu, 4 Aug 2020 – The conservative challenge to Hindutva