Modi vows to build ‘grand’ temple at Babri mosque site

Published February 6, 2020
The temple construction had been a campaign pledge of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party even before the mosque’s demolition in 1992. — AFP/File
The temple construction had been a campaign pledge of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party even before the mosque’s demolition in 1992. — AFP/File

NEW DELHI: The construction of a grand Hindu temple at holy site bitterly contested with Muslims moved a step closer on Wednesday when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said a trust had been finalised to oversee the project.

The razing of a mosque at Ayodhya by a huge crowd of zealots almost 30 years ago unleashed some of the country’s worst sectarian violence since independence, with more than 2,000 people killed.

After a decades-long legal battle, India’s highest court ruled in November that the land in northern India should be managed by a trust to oversee the construction of a temple.

Modi announced in parliament, to applause and chants of “Hail Lord Ram” from party supporters, that the trust has now been set up.

“Let us all support the construction of a grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya,” Modi said, referring to the deity it will be named after.

The temple construction had been a campaign pledge of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even before the mosque’s demolition in 1992.

In 2002, when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state, 59 Hindu activists died in a blaze on a train from Ayodhya, leading to riots that saw upwards of 1,000 people perish, mostly Muslims.

For critics, the temple construction forms part of Modi’s alleged master plan to remould the country as a Hindu nation, something he denies.

The temple will be built on 67 acres (27 hectares), while five acres on the outskirts of Ayodhya will be handed over to a Muslim body for the construction of a mosque, the Press Trust of India reported.

India’s powerful Home Minister Amit Shah welcomed Modi’s announcement, saying a centuries-old wait for the temple was over, and people would be finally able to worship at Ram’s birthplace.

India aims to double defence exports in five years

India wants to double defence exports over the next five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, as the country seeks to cut its import bill amid a funding crunch that has forced successive governments to go slow on new orders.

“For several years India has been a net importer of defence products. We have taken measures to change it since 2014,” Modi said in the northern city of Lucknow, addressing the inaugural ceremony of India’s 11th defence expo.

“Our aim is to increase exports of defence products to five billion dollars in five years,” Modi said, adding India exports about 170 billion rupees ($2.4 billion) of defence products.

India’s defence export ambitions are soaring as Asia’s third largest economy suffers its worst slowdown in decades with the country’s economic growth dropping to 4.5 percent in July-September quarter its lowest quarterly growth in six years.

Between 2013 and 2017, India was the world’s top arms importer, accounting for 12pc of total imports globally, with Russia, Israel and the United States among the top suppliers.

According to government data, India’s major defence export customers include Italy, Sri Lanka, Russia and France.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2020

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