And the twain shall meet

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 19.09.10
Picture Prem Singh

From a distance, the temple and the mosque look like they are two independent structures. The Keshav Dev temple towers over the white and green domes of the high-walled Shahi Idgah masjid in Mathura. Come closer, and you see that it’s almost one edifice. The time-worn red sandstone wall of the mosque abuts a pink and white canopied hall with a saffron flag flying on top. In one corner of the hall, narrow steps, all along the wall of the mosque, lead to a dimly lit chamber, where, legend has it, Krishna was born.

Among those joining the chorus in praise of Krishna is Raza Imran Rizvi, a 35-year-old cloth merchant from Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh. Accompanied by his friend and business partner Pawan Agarwal, Rizvi, who has just visited the mosque next to the temple, stresses that India should have more such shrines. “I wish we could have more places where both the communities can pray in peace,” he says.

Agarwal agrees whole-heartedly with his friend. “We are moving forward as a country, and we should do just that, rather than getting caught in the politics of demolitions and building temples and mosques,” he says, clasping Rizvi by the arm.

A few kilometres away, Mohit Bansal, sitting with his girlfriend in the glitzy Highway Plaza mall on the outskirts of Mathura, says there’s nothing like the view of the temple and the mosque seemingly hugging each other. “It’s a great nazara (view),” he says. “Even conservative people will feel good when they see the two structures side by side,” says the 17-year-old resident of Mathura.

Bansal was born after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Next week, if the Allahabad High Court gives its verdict on who owns the land in Ayodhya, Bansal certainly won’t be holding his breath in anticipation. For him, and for many others in Mathura, religion is nothing to get all worked up about. “It’s money that speaks here, and not God. In a way it is good that people are busy making money. Nothing will distract them now,” says Shankar Gupta, whose hardware store is just a few hundred metres from the complex.

But that’s not how the administration sees it. There is always some fear that after the verdict trouble may break out in Mathura — which is on the agenda of Hindu fundamentalists who believe that the mosque in the UP city has to go.

At least 10 policemen guard every entry point around the mandir-masjid complex. All the entry points have close circuit cameras and are manned by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans. According to a CRPF officer, besides a CRPF battalion and four companies of state armed police, state police in plainclothes and scores of intelligence officials are keeping a close watch on the activities around the shrines. A few National Security Guard (NSG) commandos have also been deployed to deal with any crisis.

Armed guards were a rare sight when Abdul Wajid, who is from Siliguri in West Bengal, arrived in Mathura in 1984. Wajid, who is now the Imam of the idgah, says there wasn’t a single policeman guarding either the masjid or the mandir till the late 1980s and the early 1990s. “The controversy about the temple and the mosque started only after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Some people started saying that Krishna’s birth place shouldn’t have a masjid in its vicinity,” says the Imam. According to historical records, the idgah was built sometime in the 17th century during Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s reign.

In the last 15 years or so, life has moved on an even keel in Mathura. Wajid points out that people with a divisive religious agenda have met with electoral losses. Pradeep Mathur, a member of the UP legislative assembly from Mathura, agrees. “Communal forces have no place in Mathura. Those who stoke communal fires have been rejected and will be rejected in the future too. It will be business as usual in this city,” says Congressman Mathur.

But not everybody is ready to give up the movement for the Mathura temple yet. Saurabh Gaur, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist in charge of Vrindavan, says his organisation still hopes to build a massive temple at Krishna janmabhoomi, but for now it is focusing on Ayodhya. “We will follow our saints. If they say that we should launch a movement in Mathura we will launch it tomorrow. But they are waiting for a resolution of the Ayodhya issue,” says Gaur.

There may not be too many takers for Gaur’s movement because Mathura is busy trying to make its mark as a city that means business. Hundreds of hardware shops line the roads, catering to the growing business of hotels and housing around the city. Scores of billboards advertising housing projects in and around the Mathura-Vrindavan area dot the narrow roads.

For youngsters like Bansal, life doesn’t revolve around the temple or the mosque. And it’s for this growing middle-class section that brands such as Provogue, Pizza Hut, Cafe Coffee Day, Cream Bell and Pepe Jeans have opened outlets mostly in malls in and around Mathura.

If anything ignites passions, it’s civic woes. Thousands of unplastered brick homes across Mathura point to the fact that the city is bursting at the seams. And without a proper drainage system, it takes only a few minutes of rain to bring the temple town to its knees. “The city has grown with the population, but governments have failed to provide us with the basic amenities that they promised,” says Aneesa Begum, a housewife, pointing to a mound of garbage in front of the idgah which hasn’t been cleared for days.

With the hope of progress on the one hand and unmet promises on the other, the controversy over the mandir-masjid is the last thing on the minds of the people. As Bansal puts it, the future for him has little to do with a sprawling temple or a mosque. His dreams are all about finding a good job after college and marrying his girlfriend. That’s his way of getting close to God.