Bhopal, Feb. 18: Dhar appeared perched on a communal tinderbox this afternoon with belligerent VHP activists trying to “liberate” Bhojshala and Uma Bharti crying for its handover to the Hindus, but Digvijay Singh checkmated the saffron brigade by quoting a BJP court affidavit acknowledging the monument as a mosque.
Screaming “Bhojshala hamara hai”, about 1,000 VHP and Bajrang Dal activists tried to storm the monument at 12.39 pm — picked out as the “auspicious” moment — but riot police staved them off by wielding lathis, bursting teargas shells and making summary arrests. Fears of a Gujarat-type situation developing in Dhar, however, remained, making it the second such place in Madhya Pradesh after Ganjbasoda.
Hindus and Muslims have been long fighting for the custody of the 11th century monument with the one considering it a temple of Goddess Saraswati and the other a mosque.
Under a 1995 agreement, the Hindus were allowed to pray in Bhojshala on Tuesdays and Muslims on Fridays, but an Archaeological Survey of India directive in 1998 limited Hindu access to Basant Panchami only.
Trouble began simmering from 11.30 am with activists courting arrest in small batches and women trying to force their way into the monument.
But the big moment came at 12.39 pm when activists staged a virtual ‘show of strength’, breaking barricades and pelting stones and later burning tyres and raising provocative slogans.
Local Muslims later alleged they were harassed, taunted and forced to shut establishments much before curfew was imposed. There was some confusion with chief minister Digvijay denying curfew had been clamped and the Dhar administration using loudspeakers to urge people to stay in.
In minutes of the attempted ‘storming’, BJP star campaigner Bharti added fuel to the flames, issuing a statement that Digvijay either hand over the monument to the Hindus or face a state-wide BJP agitation. Bharti’s cry signals her party’s bid to make Bhojshala a poll plank ahead of the November elections.
Digvijay demolished Bharti’s demand in the Assembly by quoting the 1998 affidavit submitted by the then Union HRD ministry in Indore High Court.
The affidavit, filed by the BJP’s Sumitra Mahajan and her late husband G.V. Mahajan, had questioned if the structure was actually a Bhojshala dating back to Raja Bhoj and admitted on the basis of Persian inscriptions that it was a Muslim shrine.
Digvijay, who tabled the document on the floor of the House, said the Mahajans and others had even questioned the authenticity of a statue of Saraswati that the Hindu Jagran Manch claims had found its way to a London museum.
On page 12 of the affidavit in which the Mahajans represented the ASI, they had observed: “It is most humbly submitted that the factual identity of the present structure is not definitely known, nor can it be ascertained from the study of the structure itself.”
Reading from pages 12,18, 20, 27, 28, 44 and 46, Digvijay established that the BJP was going back on its earlier stand in the high court that some Persian inscriptions indicated that Bhojshala was a mosque belonging to the Ahmad Shah Khilji regime.
The BJP MLAs could not bear the heat. Led by leader of the Opposition Babu Lal Gaur, they staged a walkout, accusing Digvijay of being anti-Hindu.
The chief minister went on reading one letter after another, substantiating how many organisations close to the BJP had gone back on their words.
Digvijay said at a local level, the two sides worked out an amicable settlement on April 23, 1995, which allowed:
n Muslims to pray on Friday and Hindus permitted entry every Tuesday
n No sloganeering inside the premises
n No puja, arti or deities to be placed inside the monument.
Digvijay said as long as he was chief minister, he would not let Madhya Pradesh go the Gujarat way.
“I said then and I am saying it now — under Digvijay Singh, there will be no Gujarat like situation in the state. Any one messing up the law of the land will have a destination — jail,” he said.