ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday condemned the construction of ‘Ram Mandir’ on the site of historic Babri Masjid, saying it was part of India’s journey towards the setting up of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ at the cost of its secular credentials.

The statement came after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a grand temple in Ayodhya at the site of the historic 16th century Babri Mosque that was demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992 on the pretext that it was the birthplace of Ram, a Hindu deity.

The start of the construction comes after a protracted legal battle between the Muslims and Hindus in India. The Indian Supreme Court had in November last year awarded the site to Hindus, while allocating an alternate five-acre plot to the Muslims to build a new mosque.

FO terms Modi govt’s decision a blot on the face of so-called Indian democracy

“The flawed judgement of the Indian Supreme Court paving the way for construction of the temple not only reflected the preponderance of faith over justice but also the growing majoritarianism in today’s India, where minorities, particularly Muslims and their places of worship, are increasingly under attack,” the FO said in its statement.

The groundbreaking ceremony of the temple marked the fulfillment of another promise that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made to its hardline electorate decades ago about the construction of the temple. The pledge had been part of every BJP manifesto since 1996.

A limited number of guests had been invited to attend the ceremony because of Covid-19 pandemic. Couple of ageing BJP leaders who had remained at the frontlines in the movement for construction of the temple — L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi — watched the live telecast of the event, but the presence of Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the ruling BJP’s ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) carried a lot of symbolism.

The choice of the date for the groundbreaking coincided with the first anniversary of annexation of Occupied Kashmir. ending the special status enjoyed by Kashmir in India’s Constitution was another BJP core promise that was fulfilled on Aug 5 last year.

“A temple built on the site of a historic mosque will remain a blot on the face of the so-called Indian democracy for the times to come,” the FO said.

“Future generations of Muslims would continue to be cognisant of the new illegitimate structure which the Hindutva-driven BJP has campaigned for, and is bent upon constructing as part of its agenda of converting India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’ Today’s event in Ayodhya reflected an unrelenting drive in this direction,” it added.

Minorities, it underscored, were now being made second grade citizens by the government led by BJP-RSS combine.

The FO recalled other anti-Muslim actions taken by Modi government including the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the looming National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the targeted killings of Muslims in Delhi with state complicity earlier this year to suggest the aggravating plight of Muslims.

“The anti-Muslim measures point to the fact how Muslims in India are being demonised, dispossessed, marginalised and subjected to targeted violence,” the statement noted and reminded about the “gross and systematic human rights violations” and the “sinister design to change the demography of the occupied territory”.

The FO worried that developments in India pointed towards the “the rising tide of the divisive and extremist ideology” that besides hurting religious harmony in India could also pose a threat to regional peace.

“Pakistan urges the Indian government to ensure safety, security and protection of minorities, particularly Muslims and their places of worship and other Islamic sites on which the Hindu extremists and zealots have laid claims,” the FO said.

“The international community, the United Nations and relevant international organizations should play their part in saving the Islamic heritage sites in India from the ‘Hindutva’ regime and ensure protection and religious rights of minorities in India,” it further said.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020