As the date for the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is being considered, construction is yet to begin on the proposed mosque on land granted in Dhannipur following the Supreme Court verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute.
The judgment of the dispute by the Supreme Court on November 9, 2019, paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple – at the disputed site – and a mosque, at an alternative five-acre plot. But while the construction of Ram Mandir is nearing completion, only the foundation of the mosque has been laid so far.
The Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF), which is handling the construction of the mosque, is struggling to get the mosque’s map sanctioned and reeling under a lack of funds.
The laying of the foundation stone is the only activity that the land has seen.
The matter’s roots are deeper than the lack of money.
The Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh has been peeved ever since the Supreme Court granted five acres of land to the Muslim side at a prominent place in Ayodhya for the construction of the mosque. On the other hand, a large section of Muslims too are understood to have adopted a non-cooperative attitude towards the construction, as they are annoyed at how the government has been gung ho about the completion of the Ram temple but has been keen to create roadblocks on the path of the mosque’s creation. The Waqf Board too is under the government’s control.
Also read | Ayodhya: Once There Was A Mosque
When the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict, Muslim parties to the dispute had not been ready to accept the land granted to it in place of the Babri Masjid land. They argued that according to the Waqf Act and the Shariah, a mosque can neither be sold nor put to any other use, or exchanged for any other piece of land.
That’s when the Uttar Pradesh Central Sunni Waqf Board stepped forward, welcomed the decision “to prevent conveying any wrong message from the Muslims in the country” and accepted the land. Soon, the IICF was formed to oversee the construction of the mosque and other related structures.
Since the board was constituted in 1942 under the UP Muslim Waqf Act of 1936 to look after Muslim Waqf properties and is ‘official’ in the sense that it functions under the control of the government, there were apprehensions in many Muslim circles that there was government pressure to accept the granted land.
Incidentally, in 1960, the UP government made a new Waqf Act in place of the 1936 Act to align it to the Waqf laws of the country. In 1995, the Union government had its own Waqf law passed by parliament, which was implemented from January 1, 1996. This law was also amended in 2013. Now, the UP Central Sunni Waqf Board comes under the latest 2013 law.
It is argued in many Muslim circles that when the mosque is being built by the ‘government-run’ Waqf Board, the responsibility for the good and the bad aspects (including the unexpected delay in the construction) lies with the UP government.
It is also claimed that there is intense pressure from the Hindutva brigade who have repeatedly and openly refused to accept a new mosque in the Ayodhya area despite the Supreme Court’s 2019 order. The government gave in to their demands and granted land outside Ayodhya city, in Dhannipur village of Sohwal block of Ayodhya district, 22 kilometres from the disputed site and 250 metres from the National Highway.
The Adityanath government did not consider the fact that the allotted site was agricultural land and there would be many hurdles in getting construction approval from the Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA). As the access road is quite narrow, it would also be difficult to get a ‘no objection’ certificate from the fire department and the pollution department will also object.
Whether it was government pressure is unknown, but the UP Central Sunni Waqf Board, while accepting the land, also did not pay attention to these complications and took a series of major decisions in the matter. The foundation set up to oversee the mosque construction claimed that it would build the ‘Masjid-e-Ayodhya’ which was going to be bigger in size than the Babri Masjid, and would not be named after Babar or any other Mughal emperor. It would be named after Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, Muslim hero and symbol of Awadh’s Hindu-Muslim unity during the country’s first freedom struggle of 1857.
The entire complex of the mosque will include an Indo-Islamic Research Centre, a super-specialty hospital, a library, a museum, a community kitchen and a cultural centre. It was also claimed that the capacity of the hospital would be 100 beds which will be further boosted to 200. Similarly, food will be cooked daily for 1,000 poor people in the community kitchen, which will later be expanded to be able to feed 2,000 people.
On January 26, 2021, Republic Day, the IICF laid the foundation stone of the mosque in an attempt to send across another democratic message on behalf of the Muslim community. In addition, it was hoped that by the end of the year 2023, not only would the mosque be built, but other structures in the complex would also be completed. Professor Pushpesh Pant, an expert in history and international relations, was appointed the consultant curator of the museum and archives, while the mosque was designed by Professor S.M. Akhtar. Two bank accounts were also opened to raise funds – one for the construction of the mosque and another for other structures.
But soon enough, the IICF realised that the ambitious project of nearly Rs 300 crores was not going to be a cakewalk when it encountered the first stumbling block of getting the map sanctioned.
After the objections posed by the ADA were disposed of – one of which was related to the concerned land being agricultural land on which the authority said that the map cannot be passed without changing its stated use – the ADA asked the IICF to deposit a fee of Rs 12 crore. But the IICF expressed inability to pay such a hefty sum as it could collect only Rs 50 lakh till then. However, the authorities refused to approve of the map unless the full fee was paid.
Meanwhile, the no-objection certificate issued by the Fire Department is subject to the condition that the approach road to the mosque complex be widened. This would mean the requirement of more funds.
Due to paucity of funds, the IICF has now postponed its plan to build a hospital, a library, a museum and a community kitchen and is planning to get the revised map passed for the construction of only the mosque, so that the work requires a lower fee.
It claims that once the construction of the mosque starts, donations will come pouring in, following which the map of the entire project will be passed and the rest of the construction can be kickstarted. But it cannot answer as to why it has not been able to raise enough money till now to realise its earlier plans.
The underlying reality is that there is hardly any enthusiasm for the new mosque in the locality in Dhannipur as there is no dearth of mosques in the area. Being 22 kilometres away from the Babri Masjid, this mosque is also not a viable alternative to the former mosque, geographically.
Amidst the massive campaign for the Ram temple and the raining moolah, such disinterest in the mosque, even among Muslims, is surprising. It brings to mind a comment made by writer Ghazala Wahab, “Accepting five acres of land instead of justice in the Babri Masjid case is tantamount to accepting that the Muslim community does not need justice at all – and that their secondary status in the country has been legitimised.”
Surprisingly, many Muslims feel that supporting the construction of this mosque is as good as supporting the discriminatory Adityanath government and paving the way for other mosques to be displaced in the same way in the future.
Despite Dhannipur reeling under a lack of civic amenities, the announcement of a hospital and community kitchen in the area could not evoke any enthusiasm. Why is that?
According to experts, there is a perception among Muslims about government-controlled Waqf Boards that they do not exercise transparency and are involved in corruption in the management of community properties. Therefore, most Muslims and Muslim organisations distance themselves from the boards. Meanwhile, the UP Central Sunni Waqf Board and the IICF do not have any funds of their own and are dependent on public charity to overcome the paucity.
Suryakant Pandey, a local leader of the Communist Party of India, says that it was the responsibility of the Union and state governments to build a mosque in lieu of the demolished Babri Masjid. This was also promised by the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, while addressing the nation after the Babri Masjid was razed on December 6, 1992. But despite the Supreme Court declaring the destruction of the mosque as “a criminal act” in its verdict, the Narendra Modi and Adityanath governments have not been sincere about the promise.
Krishan Pratap Singh is a senior journalist.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.