The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhojshala snub & sermon for Centre

Bhopal, March 6: Digvijay Singh today lobbed the Bhojshala ball back in the Centre’s court, urging Union culture minister Jagmohan to check his ministry’s locus standi on changing the status of a place of worship.

The Madhya Pradesh chief minister asked the Centre to keep in mind the Places of Worship Act and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act while passing any order. These central laws bar the executive from changing the status of any place of worship as it existed on 1947.

The Digvijay Cabinet sent to the Centre a set of recommendations that once again prohibited the right to carry puja material inside the 11th century monument in Dhar that Muslims consider to be a mosque and Hindus claim is a temple of Saraswati.

A series of communal clashes in Dhar and its adjoining districts in Malwa last month forced the Digvijay regime to ease the curbs on Bhojshala. But its move to grant Hindus weekly darshan on Tuesdays and Muslims the right to offer namaz as usual on Fridays was rejected by a hawkish Hindu Jagran Manch.

The Centre then intervened, suggesting that Digvijay let Hindus carry puja material, such as flowers and rice grains, but local Muslims opposed the proposal. They argued that allowing puja material into the Bhojshala would rob them of their right to offer namaz. Faced with the deadlock, Digvijay today again recommended that Hindus be permitted darshan minus puja material. The suggestion drew loud protests from the Manch and other saffron outfits.

Manch convener Radheshyam Yadav dubbed Digvijay as “anti-Hindu” and appealed to Jagmohan to pass an executive order allowing Hindus to carry puja material, including flowers, rice grains, idols, drums and photographs, inside the shrine.

An unfazed Digvijay said he would enforce the rule of law and accused the BJP, the VHP and the RSS of politicising the issue in an election year.

The chief minister asked how the Centre could go back on its own word, pointing to a 1998 affidavit where the respondents representing the Centre had admitted that the shrine was a mosque. The affidavit had also questioned the veracity of the statue of Saraswati which, it claimed, was discovered from a field away from Bhojshala.

Digvijay said his recommendations were based on an inter-faith settlement arrived at on April 23, 1995. Local VHP, BJP, RSS and Muslim leaders had signed on the agreement that Muslims would get to offer namaz on Fridays while Hindus would be permitted darshan every Tuesday. On the rest of the days, the Bhojshala would remain open to tourists.

The arrangement worked till 1997 when Dhar witnessed sporadic violence and communal clashes. The Archaeological Survey of India then passed an executive order closing the shrine to the general public.

It, however, permitted weekly namaz for Muslims on Fridays and allowed Hindus a day-long darshan on Basant Panchami.

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