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Jan 17, 2024, 3:38pm EST
South Asia
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Semafor Signals

Politics and religion merge as Modi prepares to inaugurate new temple

Insights from The Diplomat, The Caravan, and South China Morning Post

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Workers walk in front of the under construction site of the Hindu Ram Temple in Ayodhya, India, December 29, 2023.
REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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The News

Politics, culture, and religion are bleeding into one another as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to symbolically launch his re-election campaign with the inauguration of a new Hindu temple next Monday, at a site that has been historically claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. And a subgenre of pop music that often openly attacks Muslims and is widely patronized by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is gaining popularity ahead of the election.

It’s a sign of how Modi — who is favored to win a third term this spring — and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — are capitalizing on religious fervor months before the world’s most populous country goes to the polls.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Line between politics and religion blurry ahead of Ram Temple opening

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Sources:  
The Diplomat, Al Jazeera, The Guardian

The consecration of the Ram Temple in the city of Ayodhya has locals “in the grip of a religious fever,” The Diplomat wrote. But there is a “loud political messaging as well,” with Modi hailed as a “savior” for building the temple. “This will be our Vatican City,” a member of the VHP, a right-wing Hindu group with ties to Modi, said. Hindus believe the city is the birthplace of Lord Ram, while Muslims have prayed at a mosque located there for centuries which was torn down by a right-wing Hindu mob in 1992 — sparking one of the deadliest communal riots in India.

Opposition leaders have refused to attend the temple’s inauguration, calling it a political gimmick. A former parliament member said he turned down an invite “because the event has been appropriated by the BJP-RSS; a religious event has become a political campaign for electoral gains.” Ahead of its inauguration, flags of the BJP wave next to banners of Hindu deities, “reinforcing the idea that the temple is a gift to India’s Hindu majority from the BJP,” Al Jazeera wrote.

Popularity of H-pop mirrors rise of Hindu nationalism

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Sources:  
The Caravan, South China Morning Post

As Modi and his brand of Hindu nationalism rose to power, a new genre of music called Hindutva Pop, or H-pop, became increasingly popular. The songs combine devotional tunes with catchy beats, autotune, and lyrics honoring Hindu gods, but most often feature “the greatest hits of the BJP’s politics: hyper-nationalism, war-mongering, cow politics, Pakistan-baiting and Islamophobia,” journalist Samriddhi Sakunia wrote for The Caravan in 2022. H-pop — whose singers have “personal connections with BJP leaders” — is patronized and promoted by Modi’s party on official channels and political rallies, Sakunia reported, and therefore cannot be “dismissed as a subculture.” One song, that translates to “We will build the temple” and features footage from the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid, is often played by Hindu processions outside mosques and at rallies. The popularity of H-pop “is a further element that reinforces the electoral and political dominance of the BJP,” a New Delhi-based professor who has studied Hindu nationalism told the South China Morning Post.

Religious fervor may help Modi, but the ‘new Hindu’ still wants a secular country

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Source:  
Columnist Swati Chaturvedi

However, one Indian journalist opined that despite the “religious brouhaha” around the inauguration and the election, “the new Hindu is still proud to be a citizen of a secular republic.” Religion in India has shifted from the privacy of homes to the public square, Swati Chaturvedi wrote for Gulf News. If political parties refrain from mobilizing the politics of intolerance and hatred, “India won’t change much,” she wrote. While the religious fervor could propel Modi to victory, she predicted that the “political temperature will come down” after the elections.

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