Bhopal, April 8: Members of the majority community today strode into Bhojshala, a “flower or two and a few grains of rice” in hand, as the Archaeological Survey of India threw open the gates of the monument to them on Tuesdays and even granted them the right to perform puja.
The ASI move — taken on the orders of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, according to sources — has left chief minister Digvijay Singh at a loss on how to counter the BJP offensive in election bound Madhya Pradesh. He has been resisting the move on ground that it will set off law and order problems.
The 11th century monument in Dhar district has been at the centre of a storm with Hindus demanding that they be allowed to worship there on Tuesdays like Muslims are permitted to offer namaz on Fridays. While the Muslims believe Bhojshala is a mosque, the Hindus consider it an ancient temple.
Technically, the ASI order does not change the status of the monument. But Muslims in Dhar said the permission to carry flowers and rice into Bhojshala from sunrise to sunset on Tuesdays amounted to granting Hindus the right to worship.
This violated the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules, 1959, and the Places of Worship Act, 1991, they said.
Forced onto the back foot, Digvijay today wondered if he should move court or the Waqf tribunal against the order or lie low till the saffron brigade instals a deity inside the monument. The dominant view in Digvijay’s Cabinet is that challenging the order may dent the Congress vote bank in a state where Muslims constitute only about 7 per cent of the electorate.
Sources said the move to throw open the monument was taken by Advani during the BJP national executive in Indore last week. On the local BJP’s plea to settle the Bhojshala “row”, he is believed to have called up Union culture minister Jagmohan. Last night, the state government received an order from ASI director-general Gauri Chatterjee under Rule 4 of the ASI Act to throw open the monument.
The order said:
- Muslims shall be allowed access to the premises as at present for Friday namaz between 1 and 3 pm
- Hindus shall be permitted access to the premises to hold traditional ceremonies on Basant Panchami every year
- Hindus shall be permitted access to the premises free of charge every Tuesday from sunrise to sunset. On that day, the visitor could take a flower or two and a few grains of rice
- The premises shall be open to tourists on all other days. An entry fee of Re 1 per person shall be charged
In Digvijay’s view, the BJP is stirring up an “Ayodhya-like” situation in Dhar to extract political mileage. Dhar is in tribal dominated Malwa and is a Congress stronghold but it is now witnessing “reconversion” of tribals into the Hindu fold.
The complex was opened at 8.30 am today in compliance with the ASI directive. Witnesses said Day I passed off peacefully with about 1,000 people visiting the monument amid chanting of slogans.
Muslims in Dhar fear that in the run-up to the November 2003 polls efforts will be made to instal a deity and change the status of the place of worship.
Within hours of the opening, the qazi of Dhar city, Zakiullah, filed a petition in Indore High Court against the ASI directive, terming it “illegal”. State Waqf board chief A.G. Qureshi said he would seek legal opinion as Bhojshala was a notified Waqf property.