Modi spends Diwali eve at contentious Ayodhya temple ahead of elections

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspected the construction of a controversial temple targeted to be completed in time for national elections in 2024, which will fulfill a decades-long political promise from his ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Modi toured the site in Ayodhya on Sunday, when the plinth was bedecked in marigolds and rose petals for the Hindu festival of Diwali. The event was telecast live on TV channels and as a state-run webstream on Twitter.

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India’s Supreme Court in 2019 handed over ownership of the site to Hindus after decades of bitter dispute. Modi in 1990 was one of the organizers of a nationwide push to build a Hindu temple to replace a mosque on the site -- a campaign that marked the emergence of his party as a national electoral force. The mosque’s destruction by a Hindu mob two years later sparked riots that killed 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Many Hindus believe the site was where Lord Ram was born, before Muslim invaders demolished a pre-existing temple and built the mosque.

“PM Modi is blessed because he also had the opportunity to lay the foundation stone for this temple,” the commentator said in Hindi, describing the expanse of the temple complex when it would be completed. “Ayodhya is as beautiful as a bride.”

By Modi’s side was Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-robed cleric elected as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, a politically pivotal state of more than 200 million people, which houses Ayodhya.

India is due for key state elections in coming months, including in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, before the national poll in 2024. In recent weeks, a Hindu group linked to Modi’s party has called for a national population policy that appeared aimed at minority Muslims, and decried rising unemployment and wealth inequality.

An influential opposition leader is also on a march across the length of the nation to draw attention to inflation and unemployment, and to protest against what he says is a socially divisive agenda run by Modi’s government.

Apart from the televised visit to the temple, Modi on Saturday handed over employment letters to 75,000 people at a virtual event, and on Sunday his federal government banned an organization linked to the nation’s main Congress opposition party from accessing foreign donations, local media reported.

Read more: Modi says India aims to become developed nation in 25 years

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