Communal trouble is brewing in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar with the administration and a hard line Hindu group locked in a dispute over conducting rituals on Friday at a local shrine shared by Hindu and Muslims.
The Bhoj Utsav Samiti wants district officials to exempt them from rules of worship at Bhojshala – a disputed 11th century structure that Hindus claim as a Saraswati temple and Muslims call a mosque.
They want to conduct an ‘Akhand’ (non-stop) puja on Friday to mark Basant Panchami – also known as Saraswati Puja – but this would mean barring Muslims from entering the Bhojshala to offer prayers.
Rules designate Hindus to pray at the shrine on Tuesdays while Muslims can do so on Fridays. The Saraswati Puja last fell on a Friday in 2013, when police lathi-charged a Hindu group angry for being forced out of the Bhojshala to make way for namaz.
This year may see worse violence with the Samiti warning the administration that it may have to face the devotees’ wrath. It held a 35,000-strong rally on Monday and is mobilising devotees across the Malwa-Nimar region. “If the devotees are not allowed to perform Akhand puja, there will be a reaction from the Hindus for which only the administration will be responsible,” said Gopal Sharma, convener of Dharm Jagaran Vibhag, an outfit of the RSS.
The group has decided to hold the puja outside the Bhojshala premises, a move being seen as an attempt to incite local anger against the “incompetent” administration and foment communal tensions. “If the namaz is held inside the Bhojshala, it would mean stopping the Saraswati puja for a couple of hours to allow the namaz. We are not agreeable to this, so we are holding puja outside the premises,” said Samiti patron Vijay Singh Rathore.
The local MP Savitri Thakur appealed to the city’s Muslims to not offer namaz on Friday to allow the “Akhand Puja”.
The administration is bound by directions issued by the Archaeological Survey of India that say Muslims have to be allowed to offer namaz between 1 and 3pm. But officials are being cautious. “We cannot stop anyone from holding Saraswati puja outside the Bhojshala, but we can assure the premises is open for everyone,” said divisional commissioner Sanjay Dubey.