Fixing history or driving wedge?

Gyanvapi Masjid Row

By Poonam I Kaushish

Politicians are an unholy lot who take a “holier than thou attitude” on anything and everything — be it religion or riots, scums or scams. All fanatics when it comes to protecting their power bases. Nothing stands testimony to this better than the “jihad” unleashed over the Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Certainly, the masjid-temple symbolism is an intoxicating potent which is being used by netas to vet voters’ appetite depending on which side of the template one is on — Hindu or Muslim. Both have just one faith — power.
Last week’s videography of the Gyanvapi Masjid complex to know the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir’s present status has given political fodder after the Supreme Court refused to intervene in a Varanasi court allowing it.
Pertinently, the Kashi-Masjid dispute was one of the three religious places invoked by the RSS, BJP and VHP during their Ram Mandir campaign, “Ayodhya to bas jhaanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai.” Saffronites allege Mathura’s Shahi Idgah Masjid was built by demolishing a temple at Lord Krishna birthplace. A case is pending before a local court seeking to reclaim Katra Keshav Dev Mandir complex.
Questionably, is the genesis of the dispute to rectify history or drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims? Ensure BJP’s political future? Or is it about Shringar Gauri? What does that have to do with the mosque?
History tells us the Gyanvapi Masjid was built by Aurangzeb in 1669 after demolishing the ancient Vishweshwar Mandir. The temple’s plinth was left untouched and continued to serve as the mosque’s courtyard. But since 1991 it has been wrangled in legal troubles when a descendant of Vishwanath temple priest and two others filed a suit in Varanasi’s civil judge court demanding land be returned to them, bypassing the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991(PoW).
In 1998, the court ruled the suit was barred by PoW Act citing Section 3 which prohibits converting a place of worship of a different religious denomination or a different class of the same religious denomination. Section 4(2) states all litigations, appeals or other proceedings relating to changing the nature of the place of worship (which were pending till August 15, 1947) shall cease after the enactment of this Act and no fresh action can be taken on such cases.
The petitioners contended that the 1991 Act did not apply to the Masjid as the Mandir was partly demolished to construct the Masjid. Also, as change in nature of worship place had occurred after the cut-off date of August 15, 1947 legal action could be initiated. The Ayodhya (Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid) dispute was exempted from the Act.
Based on this a revision petition was moved before the district court which allowed it and asked the civil court to adjudicate the dispute, afresh. The Anjuman Intezamiya Masjid Committee successfully challenged this in Allahabad High Court which stayed proceedings.
The court case remained pending for 22 before the 1991 advocate re-filed another plea requesting Archaeological Survey of India survey the mosque-complex on the same grounds: temple existed before being demolished by Aurangzeb, which was proved by the continuous presence of Lingam, questioning why being Hindus were deprived of their religious right to offer water to lingam.
This was ceded by the city-court on 8 April 2021. Alongside, a five-member committee comprising archaeology experts with two members from the “minority community” was constituted to determine whether any temple existed at the site, prior to the mosque. The Anjuman Intezamiya Masjid Committee challenged it in the Allahabad High Court which indefinitely stayed the survey.
On 18 August 2021 five women filed a petition demanding right to worship in Shringar Gauri temple daily without any restrictions along-with other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”. Presently, devotees are allowed to worship only on the fourth day of Chaitra Navratra. Today, post videography all eyes are on what the court abjudicates.
To buttress its claim, a senior BJP leader underscored Kashi Vishwanath Temple as Lord Shiva’s most significant shrine and prominent among 12 ‘Jyotirlingas’ mentioned in Puranas. It is part of our national heritage and symbol of nationalism which is at the core of Indian consciousness. We have given Kashi a political thrust for installing Hindu nationalism as India’s dominant political credo.
Added another diehard Saffronite, “The idea of communal harmony and unity flies in the face of historical evidence even as Muslims use historic religious sites as reference points to articulate their socio-political goals and build their modern identities with different visions of a modern State.”
Musim clerics aver the Hindutva Sangh has found its golden goose: Reclaiming temples by breaking mosques to get the Hindu majority to keep bringing them back to power on an emotive issue built on the foundation of aastha and badla from Muslim invaders, who are history. The method is simple: instill a feeling of victimisation within Hindus that they had been dealt unfairly by the Muslim minority, first by Mughals and now by Congress which believed in Muslim appeasement.
Today, this victim complex has now culminated into a superiority complex within a cross-section of the majority community which wants to assert its identity by demolition of mosques and “reclaiming” temples. Ayodhya and Babri were the political investments made three decades ago.
Said a member of All India Personal Law Board,”Neither Babri masjid or Kashi Vishwanath temple is a religious issue for the BJP. They are political issues for which they will gain benefits in 2024 elections. They want to dip into their interest earnings from Ayodhya and make fresh investments — basically go on an expansion drive, inject fresh fuel in religiosity via Kashi and Mathura which are part of a grand effort to undermine India’s Islamic history. The motive is clear. Monuments that remind the presence of Muslims ruling India must be destroyed.”
Already, seven BJP states have passed laws that criminalise marriage between Muslims and Hindus and targeted laws and policies on namaaz, hijab, beef and talaq. The message is also larger — demonisation of the Muslims. One can call them terrorists, anti-nationals or rabid fundamentalists to completely destroy India’s pluralism.
Basically, it all boils down to a desire for political power, a struggle for resources, ethnic rivalries and economic competition. The repeated finger pointing between Hindus-Muslims reveal that for power both will adopt diabolical machinations to create a secular-communal divide. There is no desire to uphold equal respect for various faiths. Instead unashamedly use religion to increase their so-called popularity with voters.
In this milieu wrought with friction our leaders need to understand that by playing Hindus- Muslims against each other they are only serving their vested interests. Communalism thrives on one community’s hate for the other along-with playing up the psychosis of retaliation. At the end of the day, when our polity does a cost-benefit analysis, they need to answer a simple question: Is there vote-bank politics really worth the price the country is paying? Who will bear the cross and answer to Gods? — INFA