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Life after Bhojshala

Six years after a saffron outfit demanded that a Muslim place of worship be turned into a temple, both communities pray here — and Hindutva’s not on the poll agenda. Piyusha Chatterjee reports.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2009 23:21 IST
Piyusha Chatterjee

In 2003, just ahead of the last election, a saffron outfit decided to push the Hindutva agenda in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, for some extra mileage.

The centuries-old Bhojshala complex, where Muslims prayed every Friday, should be converted into a temple and Muslims banned, the Hindu Jagran Manch declared, because inscriptions inside suggested it was once a Sanskrit college and even housed an idol of Saraswati.

Six years on, the saffron agenda has backfired.

Hindus and Muslims are both praying at the ancient stone structure, in a remarkable show of communal harmony in a traditionally restive town. Hindus pray to Saraswati on Tuesdays; Muslims to Allah on Fridays.

The issue is considered settled and no one wants to discuss it any more. No one wants a repeat of the unrest that followed the 2003 campaign.

For two months, as curfew was repeatedly imposed and skirmishes heightened the tension, shops stayed shut for days at a time in the commercial town.

Wounds that had been healing since the Ayodhya mosque demolition 13 years earlier were reopened.

And business was lousy.

Rohit Jain (29), who runs a furniture shop on the road leading to Bhojshala, remembers how every argument on the street was fraught with danger. “We were pulled back at least a hundred years in terms of progress because of the tension. Those curfews are no good for our business,” he said.

Rajiv Saini works with a security agency and is posted at the Bhojshala. “There are small flare-ups once in a while, but everyone wants that the tension gets dissipated soon.”

This time around, the BJP has decided not to ruffle any feathers. And leaders like Uma Bharati, once chief minister and the BJP’s Hindutva poster girl and now head of her own saffron outfit, don’t march through the town with divisive speeches anymore.

The town, 248 kilometres south-west of the capital Bhopal, remains wary of politicians.

“They come before the elections and say things to get votes. We are left to suffer the consequences,” says Munshi Mohammed Dharvi (65).

“If I had my way,” says Jain, as he sips tea with Mohammad Rizvi (35), who owns a furniture store next door, “I would convert the structure into a school or hospital.”