An 11th century monument has emerged as a religious flashpoint in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district days ahead of next month’s Basant Panchami with Hindus and Muslims vying to offer prayers at the disputed site that Friday.
Under an old arrangement mediated by district authorities, Hindus are allowed to pray at the Bhojshala complex from sunrise to sunset every Basant Panchami, while Muslims offer prayer at the site on Fridays.
But with the occasions overlapping on February 12, both sides are reluctant to give up their access to the site and the local administration is apprehensive of fresh trouble around what many call the state’s “mini Ayodhya”.
Sources say hard-line Hindu groups want to organise prayers throughout the day without allowing Muslims to offer their Friday namaaz.
The website of the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Bhopal Circle refers to the monument as the “Bhojshala and Kamal Maula’s Mosque”.
“It is believed that it was originally a temple of goddess Sarasvati built by Parawara King Bhoja in circa 11th Century AD,” the site says. “The mosque is built using structural members of the temple. The monument also retains some slabs inscribed with Sanskrit and Prakrit literary works. Noted as a great patron of art and literature, Bhoja is said to have established a school, now known as Bhojashala.”
A senior police officer, who did not wish to be named, termed these “deliberate attempts” to polarise the two communities on the eve of Basant Panchami.
The matter escalated after authorities slapped sedition charges on some prominent Muslims in the area including Dhar Shahar Qazi Waqar Sadiq, Mujeeb Qureshi, who is the president of the state Congress’ minority wing, as well as his son, Kamran Qureshi, for allegedly shouting anti-national slogans during a procession on December 7.
While they are yet to be arrested, six others have been jailed over the issue for three months. The Qazi, who has influence over nearly 210,000 Muslims in the district, and others have denied the charges and alleged that the action was taken at the behest of local Hindu outfits.
Sources say, during similar crises at the Bhojshala in 2003, 2006 and 2013, he played a crucial role in maintaining peace.
“If we are not allowed to offer namaaz on Friday, the Muslims would be hurt and it would also be a failure of the central government as it is an ASI-protected monument,” said Sadiq.
Right-wing orgainsations are using the occasion to unite the Hindu community in the name of “swabhimaan” and “samman”, or “self-respect” and “honour”.
“The Hindu samaj will not tolerate any backstabbing by the administration this time as was done with us in 2013,” said Vijay Singh Rathore, patron of theBhojshala Utsav Samiti, the organisation overseeing the Basant Panchami festivities.
Three years ago, the administration had strategically stopped the pooja in the afternoon to allow the Muslims to offer namaaz when police also had to resort to lathicharge.
Two Hindu groups have decided to hold a religious meeting on January 24 when controversial spiritual leader Sadhvi Ritambhara is expected to address locals.
Sources told Hindustan Times said that BJP MP Yogi Adityanath, known for his incendiary statements, has also been invited to come to the Bhojshala and address the people. “He was coming to Dhar on January 29 but the programme was postponed,” said Rathore.