In the late 80s and the early 90s, both in the run up to and in the immediate aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, entire neighbourhoods would reverberate with chants of “Ayodhya Babri toh jhaanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai!” (Ayodhya Babri was just the beginning, Kashi-Mathura are still left.) This was an open threat to tear down the Gyanvyapi mosque in Kashi and the Shahi Idgah that stands adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple in Mathura.
Now, in wake of the Supreme Court judgment in the Ayodhya dispute case and then emboldened perhaps first by the regime’s open support of the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya as evidenced by the Prime Ministers presence at the ‘bhoomi poojan’ on August 5, hardliners are once again resurrecting their demand for ‘liberating’ Kashi and Mathura.
For starters, the infamous slogan has once again allegedly started popping up on social media and in whatsapp groups. The communal flames were reignited after Sudhir Singh, a local politician, gave the call to ‘liberate’ Kashi Vishwanath temple and launched the Kashi Vishwanath Mukti Andolan shortly after the SC judgment in the Ayodhya dispute case. Singh made the announcement at Assi Ghat on Mahashivratri earlier this year and was also arrested and sent to jail briefly for the same.
But this wasn’t his first time behind bars. He had stirred controversy earlier too when he announced a Dandavat Yatra from Sankatmochan temple to Gyanvyapi mosque, the procession was to pass through several Muslim neighbourhoods.
Sudhir Singh who was previously with the Samajwadi Party, is now with Shivpal Yadav’s Progressive Samajwadi Party, though there appears to be nothing progressive about his hardline stance on matters related to religion. In a recent interview to Dainik Bhaskar Singh had brazenly said, “Had the lockdown not taken place, either Kashi Vishwanath would have been liberated, or I would have been jailed under the National Security Act.”
The impunity with which Singh makes such communally inflammatory statements suggests he feels protected by the powers that be. This however does not bode well for the fragile secular fabric of the nation, specifically Uttar Pradesh’s Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb that represents the region’s syncretic culture.
In April this year, in an exclusive interview to SabrangIndia co-founder Teesta Setalvad, Maulana Abdul Batin Nomani, Shahr-Mufti Benaras, had urged India’s vibrant Muslim community to maintain peace and respect the law of the land even amidst a growing atmosphere full of hate and provocation, especially given the challenges posed by the lockdown. He had said, “Violence and bloodshed are never the solution to anything, whatever the provocation. Only love can help establish lasting peace. Only the brotherhood between communities can end hate.” He had further said, “We appeal to all Muslims and non-Muslims, that if you come across hate, respond to it with love. That is the only way to counter it. Eventually, good will and must win over evil. That is how we will prosper as a nation and as a society.”
Kashi Vishwanath – Gyanvyapi controversy
The Gyanvyapi mosque that is adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple has been in the eye of the storm with many right-wing organisations keen to turn it into an Ayodhya like dispute. After the conclusion of the Ayodhya case, many whatsapp messages were reportedly circulated containing names of mosques that had allegedly encroached upon temple premises, Gyanvyapi was allegedly on the top of most lists.
The Varanasi based temple and mosque share a common wall. It is alleged that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had razed the temple in 1664 and the mosque was built on its ruins using the temple’s debris. Hostilities simmered over time and the dispute went to court when the title suit was filed in 1991. The two parties in this case were Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Trust (KVMT) and the Anjuman Intazamia Masjid (AIM). But back then, the Allahabad High Court had imposed a temporary stay on hearings in the case via an order dated October 13, 1998.
However, on February 4, 2020, a local court decided to commence hearings in the case stating that the HC’s order had not been extended within six months with a separate order, and that therefore the stay was deemed to have been vacated. This prompted the AIM to move HC against this decision. The HC then ordered that the stay be maintained and also invited members of the Bar to assist the court in the matter.
Meanwhile, the Sunni Waqf Board (SWB) had moved the Additional District Judge to be made party to the civil suit, a request that was turned down. This prompted them to also move Allahabad HC. In May this year the HC directed its registry to place two separate petitions related to the dispute, one by AIM and the other by the SWB, before an appropriate bench.
On June 11, the Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh (VBPPM) moved the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Places of Worship Act, 1991. Specifically, it seeks to declare section 4 of the Act unconstitutional. This has far reaching ramifications for several mosques across India. Therefore, the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim NGO, on June 13, moved the Supreme Court, asking for it to be made party to the case in a bid to foil the right-wing attempt to further divide the country along communal lines.
Meanwhile in Mathura, the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust is already laying claim to the four-and-a-half acre land next to the mosque to use as a Ranga Manch (variety hall) for religious and cultural functions organised by the trust and temple authorities. This has raised concerns about the potential for an Ayodhya like dispute. A Shahi Idgah that stands adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple is now in the eye of the storm. It was allegedly built by Aurangzeb after razing a Krishna temple that stood at the site.
Now, right wing website OpIndia says, “In an effort to liberate the Krishna Janmabhoomi at Mathura, Hindu sadhus have now formed the ‘Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Nirman Nyas’ on the lines of Ram Mandir trust.” The trust was reportedly registered on July 23, 2020 and has over 80 ‘saints’ from 14 states as its members.
Acharya Devmurari Bapu, who heads the trust told India TV that a signature campaign will soon be launched to connect other saints and seers for the ‘liberation’ of the Krishna Janmabhoomi. “After the signature campaign, we will launch a nationwide movement on the issue. We had started the campaign in February, but we did not proceed further due to the lockdown,” he said.
SabrangIndia’s predecessor Communalism Combat, a publication spearheaded by journalists and human right defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, had in its May 2003 issue documented what was dubbed Hindutva’s Hitlist. The publication had documented no less than seven widely publicised statements made by the VHP and BJP, in tandem since December 2002, that are indirect threats to demolish mosques and churches in different parts of the country, in the guise of ‘liberating 30,000 Hindu temples’.