Hindu nationalists in India never get tired of demoralising and inculcating a sense of insecurity among minorities. Even before an issue of violence or discrimination is put to rest, another sets the ball rolling.
As the row over wearing hijab, eating and selling meat during the Hindu festivals or the use of loudspeakers in the mosque started fading, the latest issue now is to stake claim over heritage monuments and historic mosques. In back to back petitions before various courts, they laid claim to even UNESCO-protected monuments like the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar — India’s historical treasures.
A spokesman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rajneesh Sing, approached a court requesting a directive to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to open 22 rooms inside the Taj Mahal, the jewel of Indo-Islamic art in India to ascertain if the claims that the mausoleum houses Hindu idols were true.
The court, however, dismissed the petition. Singh’s plea was based on a conspiracy theory supported by right-wing historians, that the 17th-century marvel was an old Hindu temple called “Tejo Mahalaya”.
Coinciding this the Supreme Court overturned a lower court order banning mass prayers at 17th-century Gyanvapi Mosque in the ancient city of Varanasi in northern Uttar Pradesh state. Right-wing elements claim that the mosque adjacent to the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral constituency is built on a Hindu house of worship.
They even claimed that a court-appointed team in a survey has found relics of the Hindu god Shiva inside the pond in the courtyard of the mosque meant for ablutions before the prayers.
The Muslim groups had opposed the survey, saying it was against the Places of Worship Act of 1991, which maintains the religious status of any place of worship as of August 15, 1947.
The lower court had ordered the sealing of the mosque. The Supreme Court, however, allowed Muslims to pray at the mosque while ordering protection of the area, where the alleged Shiva relic was found.
In another case in the same state, a court entertained a lawsuit seeking ownership of the land of 17th century Shahi Idgah Masjid in Mathura, 57 km north of Agra city. The mosque is adjacent to a temple, where Hindus believe that the deity Lord Krishna was born.
The right-wing Hindu elements backed by the government leave no stone unturned to tell Muslims that they are outsiders and learn to live on the mercy of the Hindu majority as second class citizens. And with the BJP enjoying the power, this hatred has been taking new forms and colours with each passing day.
These two issues look like a replay of the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple episode to create polarisation needed badly for the 2024 general elections in absence of any economic achievement.
Babri Masjid watershed moment
The demolition of Babri Masjid of Ayodhya in 1992, which finally gave way to Lord Ram temple in 2019 was a watershed movement in the Indian religious and political sphere. Such was the strength of the majority Hindu group, that Ram Lala (Baby Lord Rama) was made a party in the court of law to reclaim his place of birth from the Babri Masjid, which Hindus believe is the site where Lord Rama was born.
Ayodhya was made an exception. The Indian Parliament had then passed the Places of Worship Act 1991. The act prohibited the conversion of any place of worship and provided for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed at the time of independence in 1947.
The court proceedings on Babri Masjid continued for years, and eventually the judgement was delivered in favour of the mandir. “The Muslim made peace with the judgement and accepted the verdict, for it was believed that it will put all disputes to rest. But what we see now is a fall out of the Ayodhya verdict,” said SQR Ilyas of the Welfare Party of India.
Ilyas has been one of the prominent voices of Muslims in India. While speaking to Friday Times, he also questioned the role of secular parties, who have been fence-sitters, while the Hindu groups are going ahead and staking their claim on one mosque after the other.
He also raised objections about the attitude of the courts that have allowed surveys of the mosques. “It is in clear violation of the Place of Worship Act 1991 and against the 2019 Supreme Court judgement,” he added.
The recent controversies are attempts, not just to make a mockery of the Indian judicial system, but also to dent the secular diverse fabric of India.
Jaipur royal joins the debate
More surprising was when the scion of the Jaipur royal family, Diya Kumari (now a BJP lawmaker) said that the land where the Taj Mahal was built was taken away from their family. The Jaipur royal Rajput family is the one, who benefited most from the Mughal rule in India, as its members were army chiefs, and ministers and almost were instruments of Mughal rule expansion. Kumari played a high degree of opportunism to please her political bosses.
Documentary evidence suggests that Emperor Shah Jahan had purchased land from Raja Jai Singh, the ruler of Jaipur. The Archaeological Survey of India too in the Court has clarified that the rooms in the basement are walls to provide a strong structure to the monument and do not hold any Hindu idols. However, despite all this, the controversy does not seem to be dying any time soon.
The narrative that the right-wing Hindu groups are trying to float is that the Tughlaqs, Khaljis, Lodhis, and Mughals are all foreigners, who destroyed the Hindu places of worship. On one hand, they bat for Akhand Bharat (United India) that includes even Afghanistan and Myanmar as well. The patron organisation of Hindu nationalists, RSS, worships Akhand Bharat. If Akhand Bharat is a reality, then how can a person from Kabul be a foreigner?
Punishing the common Indian Muslims in the 21st century and depriving them of their right to worship for what the rulers of the past did is difficult to justify. “The Mughals tried to create a fusion of Indo-Islamic art. Why should we judge Mughals based on 21st-century nationalism?” questions historian Pushpesh Pant.
Fringe Hindu groups new foot soldier of RSS-VHP
While Hindu groups one after the other are filing petitions in various courts demanding survey of these monuments, ideological mentor of the right- wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have distanced itself from these developments. On the contrary, the members of RSS have been speaking about maintaining communal harmony.
It was the same RSS and its affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that had led the campaign leading to the demolishing of Babri Masjid in 1992. “Now they are not directly getting involved. The fringe groups that are working on their behalf. All of this is going to give electoral benefit to the BJP,” says Professor Arshi Khan of Aligarh Muslim University.