Modi inaugurated temple

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UTTAR PRADESH: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a temple on Monday that embodies the triumph of his muscular Hindu nationalist politics, galvanising loyalists in an unofficial start to his re-election campaign this year.

Modi, in flowing golden-coloured traditional dress, unveiled the black stone idol to the deity Ram in the heart of the 50-metre temple, built on grounds where a mosque stood for centuries before it was torn down in 1992 by Hindu zealots incited by members of his party.

That demolition triggered the worst religious riots since independence killing 2,000 people, most of them Muslims and shook the foundations of India’s officially secular political order.

Outside, tens of thousands of chanting and dancing devotees waving flags, honking horns and beating drums, packed the streets of the northern town of Ayodhya, as military helicopters showered flower petals from the sky.

Few members of Ayodhya’s Muslim community were seen joining the jubilant street party, and opposition leaders are reported to have stayed away.

But for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the opening of the Ram Mandir temple is a landmark moment in a decades-long campaign to align the country’s governance with its majority faith.

“The Lord has made me an instrument to represent all the people of India,” Modi said ahead of the “auspicious” opening, as he prayed at the feet of the human-sized statue, garlanded in flowers and draped in jewels.

Excitement reached a fever pitch, with thousands of Hindu believers dancing in packed streets as giant loudspeakers blast out religious tunes.

About 2,500 musicians are performing on over 100 stages for the crowds of pilgrims around the elaborate temple, built at an estimated $240 million that the project’s backers say was sourced from public donations.

The 140 kilometres between the town and Uttar Pradesh state capital Lucknow is a seemingly endless stream of billboards of blue-skinned Ram with bow and arrow — as well as of Modi and the region’s chief minister, the saffron-robed Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath.

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