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Don’t lose the plot

When earthly laws are pitted against divine forces — which are, of course, invested with power by earthly folks — it is customary in this country where secularism is defined as the equal treatment of all religions to suspend the law. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Aug 10, 2013 23:32 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra

‘Those who have desecrated this temple, and I am saying this with conviction, their names will be wiped out by the people in the days to come.’ Manaji Marwadi, the managing trustee of the Sai Baba Temple in Gandhinagar that had been razed by bulldozers in November 2008 after a session’s court rejected a plea demanding its protection was understandably livid.

When earthly laws are pitted against divine forces – which are, of course, invested with power by earthly folks – it is customary in this country where secularism is defined as the equal treatment of all religions to suspend the law. So when in 2008, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi gave the go-ahead to bring over 90 religious structures, most of them temples, crashing down, the usual suspects in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad were appalled, even though the perpetrator was unusual in that he was not Nadir Shah or Digvijaya Singh with a wrecking ball.

The VHP may have lost its mojo by end-2008 even in BJP states such as Gujarat, but when VHP state secretary Ranchod Bharwad exclaimed, “Not temples, [Modi] is demolishing Hindutva,” adding for good measure that the apostate “rode a Hindutva wave in the state to grab power and now when all Indian states are vying to destroy Hindutva, he wants to take the lead”, you’d take a look around the room for trouble.

Modi must have applied for the religious equivalent of an anticipatory bail from the Big Court House in the Sky before signing off the demolition drive based on a survey by the Gandhinagar collector. Because as far as I’m able to tell, despite those dire warnings from the Men in Saffron, Modi has been doing all right for himself since he let the brick-munching rotweillers loose on those illegal temples. The collector had listed over 310 illegal religious structures encroaching on pubic space and roads in the state capital. No communal outbreak occurred for turning such structures to rubble.

I know that you know that I know that you know that the terrible kerfuffle over the latest demolition in Uttar Pradesh — thankfully, an encroaching mosque wall this time and not some old, round thingummy with domes — is really about Noida sub-divisional magistrate Durga Shakti Nagpal having taken on the Samajwadi Party-friendly sand mafia (a description that, I must admit, I initially thought referred to shifty Arabs in Sicily). But since the whole jingbang that’s been placed on the table is about Nagpal allegedly demolishing an illegally constructed mosque wall, let’s stick to that script, shall we?

Nagpal was suspended by the state government on charges that she ordered the razing of an under-construction boundary wall of a mosque, a charge that she has denied. The situation isn’t very different from what the bureaucrat in Gandhinagar must have been up to in 2008, although in that case, the chief minister backing the collector made a big difference. The razing of temples in Gandhinagar happened around Diwali; the mosque wall in Kadalpur village was brought down during Ramzan, thereby presenting the risk of sparking communal tensions in a country where even the Mexican Day of the Dead could be the wrong time to carry out an operation against any religious grouping found to be infringing on the law. Both demolitions took place with Lok Sabha elections round the corner.

The other similarity, of course, is that Modi, the ‘Hindu chief minister’ was overseeing the pulping of illegal Hindu structures; the illegal Muslim mosque wall in UP has been brought crashing down under the administrative nose of a chief minister who has traditionally been very nice to the Muslim community. So there’s an automatic safety catch on, even if Akhilesh and his bouncers prefer to now say, ‘Oh dear, oh dear. We’ll get to the bottom of this.’

The Urdu press is livid, as are the Muslims from Kadalpur who are angry at this IAS officer for busting their (illegal) mosque wall. Ok, so unlike <some> Muslims and Muslim organisations such as the Uttar Pradesh Waqf Board, the Muslims of Kadalpur village want the ‘culprit’ to be punished that Akhilesh is only too willing to do. But the fact remains that the mosque wall <was> illegal. If Nagpal had ordered its demolition — as she also had earlier for an encroaching temple — what was she doing wrong? The Muslim villagers may have been very upset. But then so must have been Marwadi and Bharwad when the encroaching temples were demolished in 2008 in Gujarat.

In September 2009, the Supreme Court ordered a ban on any new construction of places of worship on state property. “Criminals, the land mafia and anti-social elements exploit religious sentiments of the people to grab public land through the construction of such places of worship,” the Union government petition to the court stated. The prospect of communal tension breaking out because of such demolitions is real. That hardly means that anything illegal with a religious tag should be exempt from the law.

If Akhilesh needs a face-saver, let him have one: the illegal wall of the mosque was being shoddily constructed and collapsed on its own. It was a sign from god. Wishing you a very 2,250 sq ft Eid.

First Published: Aug 10, 2013 23:27 IST