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Communalism

Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi: Why the Coming Week Is Crucial for the Hindutva Project

Legal developments are also expected to have a bearing on the fate of the other two mosques claimed by the Sangh Parivar-led Hindutva parties.

New Delhi: The consecration ceremony of the partially-complete Ram Mandir in Ayodhya will be held on January 22.

However, legal developments in the coming week are also expected to have a bearing on the fate of the other two mosques claimed by the Sangh Parivar-led Hindutva parties – the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura.

A frenzied mob of politically-motivated ‘karsevaks’ demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, after a long-drawn political movement led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

On August 5, 2020, 28 years after the mosque was razed to the ground in full public view, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally launched the construction of a Supreme Court-approved Ram Temple at the spot where it is believed the deity Ram was born.

While much of the brouhaha has been concentrated on the January 22 ‘pran pratishtha’ or consecration ceremony of the temple, which Modi will preside over, the matter listed around the date in different courts hold significance in Hindutva parties’ legal battle to claim the other two mosques in Varanasi and Mathura.

The Allahabad high court has listed January 17 as the date for argument on the composition and modalities of an advocate commission to survey the Shahi Idgah Mosque after Hindu plaintiffs claimed that there were signs of Hindu religion on its structure. On the other hand, a local court in Varanasi is on January 24 to decide whether the report of a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India would be made public or not.

On January 11, the Allahabad high court decided to consolidate 15 out of the 18 suits filed in the Mathura matter, where Hindu plaintiffs have prayed for the removal of the Mughal-era Shahi Idgah Mosque. Justice Mayank Kumar Jain passed the order, saying that the relief claimed in these 15 suits numbered 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18 were similar. The judge said the proceedings in these suits may be decided simultaneously on the basis of common evidence.

“To save the time of the court, the expenses to be incurred to the parties, and to avoid conflicting judgments it appears expedient in the interest of justice to consolidate the suits with each other,” Justice Jain observed.

The court made the suit titled ‘Bhagwan Shri Krishan Virajman at Katra Keshav Dev Khewat No. 255 and others Vs. U.P. Sunni Central Waqf Board through Chairman and others’, as the leading case.

Hari Shankar Jain. Photo: LinkedIn/hari-shankar-jain-548a42145

The case is being argued by pro-Hindutva lawyer Hari Shankar Jain, who was involved in both the Babri Masjid and Gyanvapi Masjid cases and was in 2014 felicitated by the BJP for filing cases against the then Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh government.

On December 14, the court had allowed the application of the Hindu side to appoint an advocate commission to survey the Shahi Idgah Masjid adjoining the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple. However, the composition and modalities of the commission are yet to be settled by court and it is expected to do it on January 17.

The court on December 14 observed that by appointment of a panel of three advocates as commission, neither side would suffer any harm or injury, as the commissioner report does not affect the merits of the case. During the course of the survey, the “sanctity of the campus can be directed to be maintained strictly” and that no harm or injury be caused to the structure in any manner, the judge said.

The commission would also submit its report on the alleged existence of particular Hindu signs in the mosque, as alleged by the Hindu plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs have claimed that the place of birthplace of Krishna lies beneath the mosque and that there were a “number of signs” that established that the structure of the mosque was a Hindu temple. The Hindu plaintiffs submitted the following in court: the kalash and pinnacle at the top of the mosque exemplify Hindu architectural style and are not present in any Islamic structure; a pillar with a lotus shaped top, a characteristic of Hindu temples, exists above the main gate of the mosque; the image of Hindu deity Sheshnaag, who Hindus believe protected Krishna on the night of his birth, is etched on the wall of the structure;  there are visible Hindu religious symbols and engravings at the base of the pillar of the mosque.

The Muslim side led by the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board dismissed these claims arguing that the Shahi Idgah Mosque does not fall within the ambit of the 13.37 acres land at Katra Keshav Dev and that the birth place of Lord Krishna does not lie beneath the mosque. They categorically denied that designs in Mughal architecture resemble Hindu religious symbols or establish that the Shahi Idgah Mosque was a temple.

The Shahi Eidgah Masjid and the Shri Krishna Janmasthan temple in Mathura. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Submitting that the claim of the Hindu plaintiffs was based on “guess work” and was “not substantiated by any documentary evidence,” the Muslim side, while objecting to a commission survey, said the “court cannot be made a tool to collect evidence for” the plaintiffs.

The HC overruled these arguments to allow for a survey. Following the court order, counsel for the Hindu plaintiffs Vishnu Shankar Jain submitted an application pleading that the commission may be headed by a retired High Court judge and that certain advocates on their behalf may also be permitted to participate in the proceedings of the commission.

A significant development is also expected in the matter of the Gyanvapi Masjid adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.

The Archaeological Survey of India on December 18 submitted in  a sealed cover its report of a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid premises in a Varanasi district court. The ASI carried out a scientific survey of the 17th century mosque to determine if it was constructed over a pre-existing structure of a temple, as claimed by Hindu petitioners.

The Varanasi district court is on January 24 expected to decide if the ASI survey report would be made public or its copies provided to the two sides. The ASI had last week urged the district judge to not make its report public for another four weeks citing the December 19 judgment by the Allahabad High Court in which it had dismissed several pleas of the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board and the masjid committee challenging the maintainability of a suit seeking restoration of a temple at the site of the Gyanvapi Masjid.

“The dispute raised in the suit is of vital national importance. It is not a suit between the two individual parties. It affects two major communities of the country,” Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal said as he set a six-month deadline for the completion of proceedings in a Varanasi court in the 1991 suit.

The HC ruled that the original suit of 1991 was not barred by provisions of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

Also read: Why the Places of Worship Act Must Be Preserved

The original suit of 1991 was filed by the Hindu plaintiffs seeking possession of the Gyanvapi Masjid premises. The recent suit filed by five Hindu women led by Rakhi Singh seeks year-round access for darshan and pooja of Maa Shringar Gauri in the Gyanvapi Masjid compound.

The HC on December 19 also directed the ASI to submit its scientific survey report in the 1991 suit currently heard in the court of civil judge senior division, fast track. In case it was found that “further survey is required, which have been left out in the survey conducted by ASI, the Court below shall issue necessary directions” to carry out further survey in view of order dated April 8, 2021, the HC said.

The matter is listed in the civil judge court on January 19.

On January 3, the ASI, in an application submitted to the district court, argued that its report was of “vital importance.” If the report “is unsealed and disclosed in public” before the submission of a copy of the report in the suit of the ‘Ancient Idol of Swambhu Lord Vishweshwar vs Anjuman Intezamia Masajid in the civil judge, senior division, fast track, there would be “more chance” of spreading “rumour and misrepresentation in public,” which may affect the work of the ASI, the ASI said.

The Allahabad HC had in August 2023 paved the way for conducting a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid after it dismissed the Gyanvapi mosque committee’s petition challenging the Varanasi district judge’s July 21 order for a survey of the premises by the ASI. The district judge had in July directed the ASI Director to undertake scientific investigation, survey or excavation at the site, i.e settlement plot no 9130, excluding the areas (the ablution tank) sealed by the Supreme Court in 2022. The district court had also directed the ASI to conduct a detailed scientific investigation by using GPR Survey, excavation, dating method and other modern techniques of the present structure to find out whether it had been constructed over a pre-existing structure of Hindu temple.

In September, the district judge directed the ASI to collect all the objects and materials, including those linked to the Hindu religion, found during its scientific survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid premises and submit it to the district administration.