Saffron robe is the new red signal for railways
An effort by railway authorities to have a temple shifted from an Agra platform on the ground of passenger safety has prompted its saffron-robed priest to threaten “a law-and-order issue”, with district officials saying the administration too opposed the shrine’s removal.
Coinciding with the standoff, Agra also witnessed a sadhu and Hindutva activists creating a ruckus outside the Taj Mahal on consecutive days after the monk was prevented from entering with a declared intention of visiting the “Shiva temple” that he claimed underlay the Mughal mausoleum.
The railways say the Ma Chamunda Devi temple on Platform No. 1 of Raja Ki Mandi station on Agra city’s fringes is an illegal encroachment.
Railway authorities have stressed that the shrine leaves only a sliver of platform between its boundary walls and the trains, endangering passenger safety in a station that handles rush-hour local trains.
On Monday, Agra divisional railway manager Anand Swaroop posted a tweet from his official handle that said the 72sqm temple’s walled premises take up 1,716sqm.
“It creates obstacles for passengers (while getting on or off trains). It’s dangerous for their safety. The division has received complaints from the public about this,” the tweet said.
Earlier on April 12, the railways had put up a notice on the temple’s wall giving the priest and the shrine’s caretakers 10 days to remove the idol and sacred artefacts so the structure could be demolished.
On April 26 and 27, temple priest Visheswaranand Maharaj visited railway officials in Agra with fellow sadhus and Hindutva activists and threatened a protest.
“There will be a major law-and-order issue if anybody tries to harm the temple. It’s been there for over 80 years; even the British failed to remove it,” the priest told reporters in Agra.
“We know how to deal with those who want to attack the temple. Let them shift the railway station, instead.”
Swaroop said: “We shall close the station if the temple cannot be removed, because we cannot risk the lives of passengers.”
A senior district official told The Telegraph on the condition of anonymity that with the BJP in power and a sadhu as chief minister, they dared not support the railways’ stand.
“The sadhus have met us and the railways have informed us that they plan to remove the temple soon. It’s a policy decision of the district administration that the temple will remain at its place. We cannot help the railways even if we want to,” he said.
Contacted, a BJP leader in Lucknow said the party did not wish to comment on the controversy.
Railway sources said 23 trains stop at Raja Ki Mandi every day, with over 10,000 passengers boarding or getting off. The railways’ daily earning from the station is Rs 3 lakh.
Paramhans Das, 48, had arrived at the Taj gates on Tuesday carrying a thick bamboo stick and declaring he wanted to visit the so-called “Tejo Mahalaya”, an alleged Shiva temple that some Sangh parivar members claim was demolished to build the Mughal monument.
Prevented by the guards from entering, the monk claimed rather implausibly that “people at the gate had ridiculed my look” in a state whose chief minister wears saffron.
“The security personnel asked me to leave my dandi (stick) behind and change my saffron robes. I refused,” Das told reporters in Agra on Wednesday.
“Later, R.K. Patel of the Archaeological Survey of India (the custodian of the monument) called me and apologised but didn’t promise he would let me enter the premises with my dandi and saffron robes.”
Patel, the ASI superintendent in Agra, told reporters: “Under the rules, one cannot enter the Taj Mahal with a baton or a stick. The security personnel had asked him to leave the stick at the gate, to be returned to him when he stepped out. But he didn’t agree.”
Another ASI official said on the condition of anonymity: “The sadhu can enter in any attire but cannot perform any religious activities (a possibility raised by his reference to a Shiva temple).”
He added: “His two associates shot a video and called some Hindutva groups to come and chant slogans against us.”
A day later, on Wednesday, members of Hindutva groups such as the All India Hindu Mahasabha and the Bajrang Dal staged a protest at the Taj gates for about an hour.
“Taj officials have insulted a sadhu and we cannot sit silent,” said Mahasabha official Shishir Chaturvedi.
Sources in Ayodhya dismissed Das as an insignificant maverick.
In December 2018, Das had been arrested by the Yogi Adityanath government after he threatened self-immolation if a Ram temple wasn’t built in Ayodhya.
A mahant at Tapaswi Chawani, an ashram in Ayodhya where Das lives, told this newspaper that Das’s “weird” actions had prompted the Chawani to ask him to leave but he had stayed on with some local support. “We don’t take him seriously,” the mahant said.