The Ayodhya Temple: Symbol of Hindu Nationalism or Economic Growth?

The Ayodhya Temple: Symbol of Hindu Nationalism or Economic Growth?

Narendra Modi’s inauguration of a controversial Hindu temple in Ayodhya sparks concerns about the rise of Hindu nationalism and its potential impact on India’s economic ambitions.

On January 22nd, millions of people will witness Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presiding over the consecration of a highly controversial $220 million Hindu temple in Ayodhya. This event not only marks the informal launch of Modi’s campaign for a third term as prime minister but also symbolizes the ongoing Hindu-nationalist project to dominate India. However, as India experiences extraordinary economic growth and modernization, there are concerns that Modi’s pursuit of Hindu nationalism may undermine the country’s economic ambitions.

The Ayodhya Controversy:

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), once considered a fringe party, gained prominence by campaigning over the status of a mosque in Ayodhya. In 1992, a rally organized by the BJP led to the destruction of the mosque, sparking Hindu-Muslim riots across South Asia. The lavish Hindu temple that Modi is about to inaugurate is built on the site of the destroyed mosque, which holds immense significance for many Hindus as the mythical birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

The Rise of Hindu Nationalism:

Previous BJP leaders, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, downplayed the party’s Hindu-first ideology, known as Hindutva, to gain mainstream support. However, under Modi’s leadership, the BJP’s radical factions have gained power. There have been instances of mob attacks on Muslims, the passing of anti-conversion laws, and the promotion of a citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims. Modi’s strongman style of rule has also resulted in attacks on India’s old liberal order, including the press, charities, think-tanks, courts, and opposition politicians.

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Economic Optimism:

Despite the religious and political tensions, India’s economy is booming. With growth exceeding 7% in recent quarters, the country is now the planet’s fastest-growing major economy and the fifth-largest. India’s improved transport infrastructure, strong equity markets, robust banking system, massive currency reserves, simplified tax system, and reduced corruption have attracted global investors. The country is also becoming a single market, allowing firms to exploit economies of scale and encouraging faster business investment. Industries such as technology services and manufacturing are coupling with global supply chains, offering promising opportunities for growth.

The Compatibility of Religion and Economic Development:

While religion and economic development have coexisted in the past decade under Modi’s leadership, there are concerns about the long-term compatibility of these two agendas. The north-south divide in India could widen if economic growth continues, with the industrialized and technologically advanced south pulling further ahead. However, Hindutva ideology holds little appeal in the south, and if Modi pushes it further while concentrating power in his own hands, tensions over internal migration, tax revenues, and representation may escalate.

The Importance of Restraint:

Maintaining economic stability requires the management of the economy by internationally credible technocrats, rather than ideologues. If decision-making becomes authoritarian and institutions are weakened, firms may become wary of investing large sums of capital. As Modi prepares for a potential third term, he must recognize the importance of restraint in fulfilling his vision of making India a great power. Balancing economic growth with religious nationalism is crucial for the hopes of 1.4 billion people and the prospects of the world’s brightest spot in the economy.

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The inauguration of the Ayodhya temple by Narendra Modi symbolizes the ongoing Hindu-nationalist project in India. While the country experiences remarkable economic growth and modernization, there are concerns that the pursuit of Hindu nationalism may undermine these ambitions. The compatibility of religion and economic development hinges on Modi’s ability to maintain a delicate balance. As he stands before admirers and acolytes, Modi must recognize the dangers of abandoning restraint and ensure that the hopes of millions of Indians and the prospects of the Indian economy are not dashed.