Babri Mark II simmering in Hyderabad

By Dr. Rosina Nasir (CSSEIP, UoH)
Syed Kabeer Hashmi (Fellow, IIM Ahmedabad)
Encroachment and squatting to build illegal religious structures on roadside seems to be a regular activity in secular India. Though religion is a private affair, it is allowed to encroach into public space to serve private aspirations by associating it with some folklore or mythology or votebank. By the time administration gets ready to deal with the menace, political communities emerge to sympathize and appease the devotees with mala fide intention to divide people in the name of God.

Such polarization on religious grounds has already been experimented on the Ayodhya issue resulting in the demolition of Babri Masjid and riots all over the country claiming thousands of lives.

Many similarities can be drawn from the Ayodhya issue, which happened two decades ago, with the communal tension now developing in Hyderabad since 30 October this year due to the expansion of Bhagayalaxmi temple abutting the the historic Charminar. Like in Ayodhya wherein a Hindu sect (Nirmohis), claimed the Babri Masjid for constructing a Ram temple and started it with juxtaposing the “miraculous appearance” of Ramlalla in 1949 and managed the installation of idols inside the mosque in the night and years later managed to get permission for opening the shrine’s lock and to worship openly. For this they employed the “comparative user” principle (namely, Muslims were praying less often than Hindus in the disputed structure before demolition). The recent incident seems to be a replay of Ayodhya in the south or it can be categorized as another Ayodhya in the making.

Like Ayodhya, in the present incident too, only the temple people are claiming that the temple is as old as the monument while the locals, historians and the Archeological Survey of India have refuted this claim. The locals have something else to say as to how the temple came into existence. Some say that during the Qutub Shahi period a stone was erected as a milestone announcing the end of plague while some say that the stone was erected to maintain a distance between the monument and vehicles on the road so as to save its pillar from rash vehicles.

Both these views converge at a point that this stone gradually grew from ordinary to auspicious; soon a picture of goddess appeared at the site and finally, an idol of Laxmi was installed. A gradual spree of extension followed once a temporary structure of temple took shape. A decorative picture of Golwalkar (an RSS ideologue) was placed at the door of the temple. As night time was used aptly in Ayodhya, so was the case in Charminar, with the difference that renovation and extension work of the temple took place under police security after the idol had been installed at night.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI), custodian of Charminar monument, denied any permission to have been sought or given for the construction of or around the temple. But the fact is that the construction has been going on though a showcause notice was served to the temple management by the ASI for the construction done in the month of August, 2012.

If neither Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation nor ASI had issued any permission to the temple management, it is hard to digest how the police, which mans a police station next to the monument, was oblivious of this creeping illegal construction and how, instead, they provided security for uninterrupted construction of the same.

It is important to note that prayers at any protected monument are categorized as “illegal”. Abiding by this rule, Muslims’ request to perform prayers at the Charminar historic mosque located at the terrace of the monument with the capacity of 250 people, had been rejected by the ASI. The question arises: why prayers at Bhagaylaxmi temple are not being considered illegal and stopped. Why is the ASI using one yardstick for the Muslim minority and another for the Hindu majority?

It appears that if Majlis-e Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) had not reacted to this incident and participated actively and had not filed a petition and seeking a stay order on any further construction by the Andhra Pradesh High Court, a full-fledged temple would have by now been constructed under the regime of the Congress in both the state and the Centre. Or was it a false impression to craft a communal dimension and thus to polarize voters before elections?

In independent India, both Ayodhya and Charminar betray an assertion wherein incorporation of a temple by hook or crook symbolizes an admiration of religious aspirations of the dominant majority. Is this assertion limited to the monuments erected by the Muslim rulers? Or will it expand to the structures erected by the British, Portuguese and French and those built in free India? Does this signify a stand against certain faiths or against monuments built by certain rulers? If so, in future we may see more such temples next to the Parliament, India Gate, St Thomas Cathedral, Jama Masjid, Humayun Tomb, Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and so forth.

At this juncture it is important to note that the area surrounding Charminar has a dense Muslim population comprised of low and middle-low classes and in the midst of it Bhagayalaxmi temple came up since decades without any strife between Hindus and Muslims, which is exemplary, and it vindicates the Hindu-Muslim harmony. The recent tension occurred due to some decoration-cum-extension-cum-renovation work for the festival of Diwali. The moot question is: was it a new exercise or an exercise observed differently? Did the concrete structure of the temple replace the temporary one overnight? If it is not so, then why there is so much clamour for it now or why did it not happen in the past?

Is withdrawal of support to the UPA-II and the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh by  MIM president, Asaduddin Owaisi, with allegation that the Congress is in collusion with communal forces, a mere a political drama to ignite and nurture communal emotions? Why did he not notice the development at Charminar and AP Congress’s reaction earlier? What had stopped him from speaking earlier? In other words, what prompted him to react now? After the order of the High Court to maintain a status quo on 30th October, what prompted further violence?  The extreme act of withdrawal of support after a warning of communal tension by the MIM is alleged to be an act of blackmailing the Chief Minister, Kiran Kumar, who refused twice to oblige him to clear a three-acre plot at the Mahavir Hospital in the A.C. Guards area of Hyderabad whose 30-year lease period ended in 2007, and to hand over possession of the prime property to the Deccan College of Medical Sciences, run by the Owaisis. It seems that he wants to draw political mileage from the temple row. Or it is a smart move in the guise of the temple controversy to snap ties with the Congress as Muslims, in general, are dissatisfied with the Congress…

It presages that history will repeat itself and Congress may liaise with two religious groups (MIM and VHP, RSS and BJP) at the right time as it attempted in 1986.

The year 1986 can be seen as a landmark in the history of post-Independence India wherein the Congress-led government under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi tried to appease two religious extremisms, first by passing the Muslim Women Act with an absolute majority and soon after by coaxing the Faizabad district court to open  the shrine’s locks for Hindu prayers and restriction on the removal of the idols.

The temple issue in Ayodhya not only bore fruit in Uttar Pradesh but also placed BJP on the pedestal of a national party since then to compete with the Congress. BJP made a huge electoral jump from 2 (1984) to 85 (1989) Lok Sabha seats and in Uttar Pradesh from nowhere in 1984 to 51 seats in 1991. Undoubtedly, the temple issue and later the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 stimulated the BJP electoral success in the North. Accordingly, the temple adjacent to Charminar can be regarded as the first step for the BJP to repeat the experiment in Hyderabad/AP in order to establish itself in the state. At the same time, one can say that MIM in Hyderabad is following the general approach of the Congress towards Muslims which is to garner Muslim votes by inculcating fear of the Hindu extremists and projecting itself as the lone saviour of Muslims. Same plank was successfully used by the Hindu extremist groups to generate fear among Hindus.  

In the same way, one can anticipate that MIM is seeing an opportunity in this crisis to emerge as the sole Muslim saviour across India.

In the present situation, it is at the initial stage where the seeds have been sown; with time they will grow to yield fruits. As it happened in the case of the Babri Masjid where the Congress party sowed the seed but the BJP reaped it by establishing and grabbing the issue of temple construction/mosque destruction.

One cannot overlook the possibility that it could be a strategy of the Congress to divert the people from Telangana to a Muslim issue and thus to create a chance to appease Muslims and further ignite anger among Hindu extremist groups resulting in more communal violence. Last but not the least, one cannot forget that it could be a plot of YSR Congress in collusion with MIM to create a space and attract Muslim votes in the next election. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2012 on page no. 11

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