The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cold water on Togadia’s Ayodhya in Karnataka

Chikamagalur, Dec. 29: “Communal amity always.” This was the counter slogan that Chikamagalur gave today to VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia’s christening of Baba Buden Darga in the town as “Karnataka’s Ayodhya”.

The “secular response” materialised much in the same manner that Togadia had coined the contentious slogan. The response came through a variety of functions that captured the heart and head of the town, including an hour-long procession and a massive rally that lasted for nearly five hours.

Togadia had come to the town 10 days ago for the VHP-Bajrang Dal sponsored Datta Jayanti. He had insisted in a fiery speech that Sufi Baba Buden — in whose name the darga is known — was actually a Hindu called Dattatreya Peetha. Hence, the institution should naturally be under the control of Hindus, he said.

The VHP leader demanded that the “Muslims better understand this” and “should instal the idol of Datta immediately” at the centre. He had also said a puja should be performed at the darga by a Hindu priest. Togadia left with the warning that if this was not done immediately, Chikamagalur would become the “Ayodhya of Karnataka”.

However, today’s rally, which was attended by thousands of Hindus and Muslims, indicated that the office bearers of Baba Buden Darga would not kow-tow to “Hindu fundamentalists” and that the people of Karnataka would not allow Chikamagalur to be converted into an Ayodhya.

The functions were attended by social activist Swami Agnivesh, revolutionary Andhra poet Gaddar, Kannada litterateur Devannur Mahadeva, human rights activists Sridhara and Ramdas of Bangalore and Mysore Universities, CPM state secretary G.N. Nagaraj and CPI state secretary Siddha Gowda Patil.

Agnivesh and Gaddar, in their lively speeches, asserted that India’s secular forces would not allow the disparagement of India’s great spiritual traditions like Sufism. Agnivesh also pointed out that Hindutva was not a religious term of the Hindus.

“Basic Hindu texts like the Upanishads make no mention of this sectarian and bizarre concept,” he said to thunderous applause from the 15,000-odd people at the rally.

The Baba Buden Darga atop the BB Hills, about 40 km from Chikamagalur, had been a centre for both Muslim and Hindu devotees till about 5 years ago. However, since 1997, the annual Datta Jayanti organised by the VHP-Bajrang Dal has been getting more and more acrimonious with each passing year. This year, the post-Gujarat election scenario seemed to have given a fillip to the Hindutva rhetoric.

If Togadia talked about creating an Ayodhya in Karnataka, Pramod Mutalik, state Bajrang Dal convener, went one step ahead and warned that if the government that if it did not allow them to install a Datta idol by next year, trouble would break out. Bajrang Dal volunteers had tried to disturb today’s function also by forcibly stopping people from taking part in the rally and raising slogans against the processionists at various places in town.

The government has apparently made some effort to convene a meeting of senior citizens of both communities and ascertain their views for a settlement. One idea, said a bureaucrat to The Telegraph without wanting to be quoted, is to get the place declared a national monument. A Datta mandir with a huge idol of Datta and a separate mosque for Muslims would be constructed at the centre if this proposal is accepted.

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