Days after an official panel endorsed renaming of a roundabout in Lahore after Shaheed Bhagat Singh despite opposition from the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), a Pakistani court on Friday barred the authorities from going ahead with the move.
Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh of the Lahore high court stopped the Pakistan Punjab government from renaming Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk in response to a petition filed by Tehrik Hurmat-e-Rasool, a movement launched by the JuD.
The judge issued notices to the Pakistan Punjab government, the city district government of Lahore, the Dilkash Lahore committee and the Bhagat Singh Foundation to file their responses to the petition by November 29.
Zahid Butt, who filed the petition on behalf of Tehrik Hurmat-e-Rasool, alleged that Indian spy agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) had funded the Bhagat Singh Foundation to raise the issue of renaming the chowk.
He claimed that the foundation had lobbied with the Dilkash Lahore committee, which had endorsed the move to rename the roundabout after Bhagat Singh.
Senior JuD leader Amir Hamza is the head of the Tehrik Hurmat-e-Rasool. Hamza had earlier said his organisation would not allow places in Lahore to be renamed after Hindus, Sikhs or Christians.
"Pakistan is a Muslim country and such ideas cannot be appreciated," he had said.
About two weeks ago, the city district government of Lahore had put on hold a move to rename Shadman Chowk due to objections from hardline groups like the JuD and Jamaat-e-Islami and a section of local residents.
The matter was referred to Dilkash Lahore, a committee set up to revitalise and beautify Lahore and to finalise new names for squares, roads and intersections after assessing their historical significance before the creation of Pakistan.
The committee rejected all objections earlier this week and asked the authorities to notify Bhagat Singh Chowk as the new name of the roundabout without any further delay, officials told PTI.
JuD leaders and traders from Shadman Market, located near the roundabout, protested against the government's decision on Thursday.
Hamza and Zahid Butt, president of the local traders' body, announced that they would refer to the roundabout as Hurmat-e-Rasool Chowk.
Members of the Dilkash Lahore committee, while discussing renaming of Shadman Chowk after Bhagat Singh, highlighted the importance of the place where the freedom fighter was hanged by the British.
Bhagat Singh was hanged in March 1931 in the erstwhile Lahore Jail, which stood at the spot where the roundabout was built later.
"Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, too, appreciated Bhagat Singh in his speech on September 13, 1947," said noted television anchor Iftikhar Ahmad, a member of the committee.
The city district government of Lahore had first announced in the last week of September that the roundabout would be renamed after Bhagat Singh on the occasion of his death anniversary.
The move was put on hold after the JuD sent a strongly-worded letter to district administration chief Noorul Amin Mengal and other government officials, warning them not to rename the spot after a "Hindu freedom fighter".
Retired Supreme Court judge Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, a member of the Dilkash Lahore committee, said Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan had always respected and protected the rights of minorities, including Sikhs, Hindus and Christians.
"That is why we are considering various important personalities, whether Muslims or Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, while renaming different places, intersections and underpasses in Lahore," Ramday said.