The 30th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid falls on Tuesday but the darkest chapter in independent India is being marked not by contrition but by signs of unsatiated appetite.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has demanded that it be allowed to conduct Hindu rituals in the 16th-century Baba Budangiri Sufi shrine in Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka, as part of the three-day Datta Jayanti celebrations starting Tuesday.
Until now, the rituals associated with the event used to take place in a structure a short distance from the shrine but within the compound.
The VHP wants to move the rituals closer to the Sufi shrine.
In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, the cave shrine came to be known as “Ayodhya of the South” because of the disputes and litigation swirling around it.
The shrine is eponymous with Baba Budan, a Sufi saint who is believed to have started the coffee culture in India by bringing seeds from Yemen.
Chikkamagaluru is one of the richest coffee-growing areas in the country. But the Sufi shrine got pitchforked into a controversy in the 1990s when the Sangh parivar launched a campaign on the lines of Ayodhya, staking exclusive claim to the shrine.
Some Muslims treat the shrine as that of Baba Budan and Hindus as the Datta Peeta of Sree Guru Dattatreya, whom believers consider an incarnation of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
The latest demand comes close on the heels of Karnataka High Court last week allowing the three-day Datta Jayanti celebrations to continue on the premises of the cave shrine, located more than 300km from Bangalore.
Yogeshraj Urs, Chikkamagaluru district VHP secretary, sought permission to conduct rituals such as homa at the shrine in an application filed before the management committee of Sri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah/ Peetha during the upcoming Jayanti celebrations.
“We have been doing these rituals at a shed outside the disputed area. But now we would like to conduct them on the shrine premises,” he told reporters, adding that the Hindu priests appointed recently by the state government would lead the rituals.
The state BJP government had on Sunday cleared the appointment of two Hindu priests solely for the Datta Jayanti celebrations.
The government had limited the role of the priests to the three-day celebrations, citing a writ appeal pending before the high court against the quashing of the order by the Congress government headed by P.C. Siddaramaiah appointing a muzawar (Muslim cleric) for the shrine.
A single-judge bench of the high court had in 2021 set aside the government order that had been challenged by the Dattatreya Devastana Samvardhana Samithi.
Syed Ghouse Mohiyuddin Shah Khadri, the hereditary administrator of the Sufi shrine, subsequently filed a writ appeal before a division bench of the high court.
The case, which came up for hearing on November 30, has been adjourned till January 12.
Khadri is now in the process of filing a contempt case against the VHP, alleging that the demand to conduct rituals inside the shrine was in violation of the high court order to maintain status quo during the pendency of his writ appeal.
“We are filing a contempt of court case since this demand (by VHP) is against the court order seeking status quo,” Khadri told The Telegraph on Monday.
“They are raising this new demand just to keep the issue alive ahead of the Assembly elections,” he said.
The dispute dates back to the post-Babri Masjid demolition years when Sangh parivar organisations launched a massive movement in Karnataka seeking rights to conduct rituals at the cave shrine.
The VHP and allied organisations then started the Datta Jayanti celebrations in 1998 while the Muslims continued to hold the Uroos in March in commemoration of the death anniversary of Baba Budan.