The semi-demolished and under-construction Qila Masjid at Punjab's Muslim-dominated town of Malerkotla for its fate is largely depending on the coming Lok Sabha elections. The Masjid Committee members are making regular visits to Lok Sabha aspirants so that the masjid could be rebuilt before the polls.
Though, the imam of the masjid, Mustaqueem Afiz, who has been serving the masjid for the past 15 years, said the masjid is almost 500-year-old and was the only masjid in the region during the time of Maharajas, now as the entire Qila is on the army land, the army officers are saying that they cannot allow re-construction of this masjid, which has reduced it to four pillars of the old structure, covered with a tin shed.
"As this is the oldest masjid of this region, there are about 300 families who come here to offer namaz. As the population was increasing, now we face problem especially on Jumma (Friday) as the tin shed could not accommodate all the namajis," he added.
Showing an old document to the Hindustan Times, Yasar Hussain, one of the members of the Masjid Committee, says, "When the army officers asked us to provide any document showing the presence of this masjid, I sought information under the RTI Act, which mentions that the masjid was located on July 8, 1953. My father and grandfather remained regular namajis at this masjid, but we are surprised that why it is not visible in army map?"
Though the documents received through RTI was difficult to comprehend, Yasar claimed that the paper shows that the masjid was also present before independence and a mufti was working there in 1953 at `20 per month.
Taking a cue from the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Masjid Committee members are making regular visits to the political stalwarts of the region requesting them to resume the construction of the masjid, which was stopped by the army last year.
"The army officers did not stop us when we were demolishing the old structure of the masjid but when we started construction to rebuild the masjid, they stopped the construction work. After our repeated requests to the army officers, we were only allowed to cover the remains of the masjid with a tin shed," said Yasar. He added that, "Now we want permission so that we could remove the remains of the old masjid and rebuild it as a number of Muslim students from Malerkotla also come here for taleem besides a big number of namajis."
Subedar Babu Khan (retd), who was striving hard to get the masjid reconstructed, said, "I have seen several Muslim army officers coming to the masjid for namaz, but now I don't know what is the problem in rebuilding it?"
When asked about any political intervention on the issue, he said, "We want to make it clear that we will openly support the candidate, who will solve this issue before the general polls."
The committee members are claiming that they had raised this issue with all senior politicians, including chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Lok Sabha MP from Sangrur, Vijayinder Singla said, "First of all, I will collect information about this issue from the Masjid Committee and army officers and only then I can say something on it."
Echoing similar sentiments, Rajya Sabha MP and SAD Lok Sabha aspirant from Sangrur, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said, "I am not aware about this issue, as you have informed me about this now I will visit Malerkotala to know the status of this masjid."
"Politicians may give assurance to the Masjid Committee, but the structure is under army land and they cannot be allowed to rebuild it," says a senior army officer requesting anonymity. The SDO of Defence Estate Office could not be contacted for a comment.