The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhojshala order on shaky ground

Bhopal, April 9: The Congress is on the defensive and the BJP is smiling, but a plethora of documents make it clear that the Central order allowing Hindus to perform puja inside Bhojshala may be legally untenable.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh and several legal experts are examining yesterday’s order of the Archaeological Survey of India permitting devotees to carry “flowers and rice grains” inside the monument every Tuesday.

For the record, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister has welcomed the ASI order, which followed a directive from deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, and opened the doors of the monument that Muslims claim to be a mosque and Hindus an 11th century temple. But in private, senior Congress leaders fear that the monument in Dhar district may be going the “Ayodhya way” and making a dent in the party’s vote bank in the Malwa region.

The Congress is wary of moving court. It fears that such a course would lead to further polarisation on communal lines. In the party’s assessment, even if the courts issue a stay order, the Congress would have to pay a political price.

“It is unfortunate that we have once again fallen between two stools. If we support a stay order, we lose majority community votes and if we oppose it, we end up losing the 7 per cent minority votes,” said an office-bearer of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, summing up the Congress’ “ostrich-like approach”.

The state Waqf board, the minorities’ commission and Muslim leadership are determined to seek legal redress. The Waqf board will meet on April 12 to formally take a stand. Chairman A.J. Qureshi said Bhojshala was a notified Waqf property and, according to the new Waqf Act, it was binding on him to “protect” the property.

On the other hand, the mood in the BJP is upbeat. Officially, the BJP has kept a distance from the Hindu Jagran Manch, which is spearheading the Bhojshala campaign. But it is an open secret that all Manch cadre have a functional relationship with the Sangh parivar.

With Uma Bharti leading the BJP campaign, party leaders are confident that closer to the November Assembly polls, the firebrand sanyasin would put the Digvijay regime on the mat.

Documents in possession with The Telegraph, however, make it clear that if the ASI order is challenged in court, it would be difficult to sustain it as almost all papers from 1935 to 1997 depict the controversial premises as a “Muslim monument”.

A gazette of the erstwhile Dhar state dated August 5, 1935, clearly states that the description Bhojshala does not mean a change of status in the place of worship. It further says that it was a mosque and would continue to be a mosque.

The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act, 1951, too, describes Bhojshala as a “mosque”. In 1985, Bhojshala was notified as a Waqf property and no objection was filed during the next one year challenging its status.

In 1997, the state government received a communication from the ASI enlisting “nationally protected Muslim religious monuments” in Madhya Pradesh. It named Bhojshala as one such monument.

Legal experts feel if the Waqf board challenges the ASI order letting devotees carry “flower and rice” inside Bhojshala, the courts would take into account all existing documents.

In 1998, the Centre had filed an affidavit acknowledging the premises as a mosque and even doubted that Bhojshala belonged to the legendary Raja Bhoj.

Some political observers, however, attach little importance to the legal position. They point to the Ayodhya dispute and the saffron brigade’s known stand in matters of faith. “The whole game is to whip up popular sentiments and for the time being, it is advantage BJP,” said a CPM leader.

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