Modi aide declares controversial temple timeline in run up to 2024 national elections

India’s federal home minister Amit Shah has announced that the controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya city will be ready by 2024, in time for national elections scheduled to be held in the same year.

Mr Shah said on Thursday that the temple will be ready by New Year’s Day on 2024.

Speaking at a poll rally in the northeastern Tripura state where elections are due in March, Mr Shah said while opposition parties like the Congress had made empty promises regarding the construction of the Ram Temple, it was the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by prime minister Narendra Modi that would bring its fruition.

“From the time Babur [16th century Mughal emperor] destroyed it and left, from the time the country gained Independence, these Congress people got it embroiled in courts – Sessions Court, High Court, Supreme Court, again Sessions Court,” said Mr Shah, who is also the prime minister’s top aide.

“Modiji came. One morning, the Supreme Court order came. Modiji performed the bhoomipujan [ground breaking ceremony] for Ram Lalla’s [infant form of Hindu deity Ram] temple and the construction work began,” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

The construction of the Ram temple has been an emotive issue for Hindus, who believe the site in Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram and claim the Babri mosque – which was raised to the ground by mobs of Hindu supremacists in 1992 – was built in the 16th century over an ancient temple marking the spot.

The construction of the temple started in August 2020 in Ayodhya, which is located in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

It followed after a favourable court verdict controversially settled the decades-long dispute over what to do with the Ayodhya site.

In 2019, just months after Mr Modi was voted back to power for a second term with an overwhelming majority, India’s Supreme Court gave its verdict by condemning the way the mosque was destroyed but allowing for the site to be handed over to the federal government to construct the Hindu temple in its place.

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“Friends, I have come to tell you one thing. In the 2019 elections, I was president of the party (BJP) and Rahul baba was president of the Congress,” Mr Shah said in his speech, referring to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by using a term meant for children, but mentioned in a manner seemingly meant to mock a political opponent.

“Rahul baba would say everyday ‘mandir wahin banayenge, tithi nahin batayenge’ [We will build a temple there but will not tell you the date].”

“On 1 January 2024, you will find a grand Ram temple ready in Ayodhya,” he said.

Mr Shah’s attack on the Congress comes as Mr Gandhi is on a country-wide five-month-long march called the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” or “Unifying India March”.

The “unity march” seeks to challenge what critics of the Modi government say is a “hate-filled” version of the country under the Hindu-nationalist government.