The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhojshala on the boil

Bhopal, April 29: All’s not quiet in Digvijay Singh’s Ayodhya at Bhojshala that Muslims believe to be a mosque and Hindus an 11th century temple.

Beneath a semblance of calm, one community is itching to “get even” by flaunting the number of devotees visiting the disputed site in Dhar in accordance with the Archaeological Survey of India’s directive that permits Hindus to visit on Tuesdays and Muslims on Fridays, while the other is grudging the changes.

A belligerent Hindu Jagran Manch, an umbrella organisation of saffron units, has its men out in the tribal areas telling people that 1,200 to 1,500 Muslims are offering Jumma prayers (Friday prayers) at the shrine. The message is clear: more and more Hindus must visit Bhojshala to neutralise Muslim claims that it has been a mosque since 1400 AD.

The Manch is also worried about poor turnout on the other days when Bhojshala is open to “general public and tourists” for a gate fee of Re 1. Local MLA Karan Singh Pawar claimed that attendance in “general days” varied between “5 to 15”, two weeks after Bhojshala was opened on April 8.

Muslims have their complaints, too. According to local community leaders Zakaullah, Waqar Safdar and Mujeeb Qureshi, the local administration is permitting a range of “unlawful” activities in and around the prohibited area, such as installation of a ghanta (bell), permission to carry saffron-coloured powder, sindoor and other puja material. The ASI directive permitted devotees to carry “a flower or two and a few grains of rice”. The local Muslims have written to ASI director Gauri Chatterjee, registering their complaint.

The chief minister acknowledged these “disturbing signs”, but said the district administration was looking into “specific” complaints.

District collector Sanjay Dubey denied any “unlawful” activities, pointing at a “close circuit television” that has been installed at the shrine for round-the-clock vigilance. District officials said the bell that the Muslims are questioning is far from the disputed area and has nothing to do with religion.

At the political level, too, there is disquiet in the Congress and the BJP. The Congress’ top priority is to prevail upon local Muslims and stop them from moving courts against the ASI order, fearing that any stay order would adversely affect the party prospects in the November Assembly polls. Dhar falls in Madhya Pradesh’s politically significant Malwa region that elects 44 MLAs in the 230-member House.

The BJP is also worried about the Manch hawks who are talking about placing an idol at Bhojshala in violation of the ASI order.

In the BJP’s scheme of things, the Bhojshala issue has served its limited purpose in consolidating the majority community votes in the region. It now intends to focus on “basic issues” like power, water shortage and lack of good roads to nail the 10-year-old Digvijay regime instead of creating a “Gujarat-like” situation.

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