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Sufi dargah unites, Ajmer divides

The fissures that were simmering since the Babri Masjid destruction in 1992 came on the surface after the Ajmer blast of October 2007. Polarisations of religion, caste and community are sharp in the holy city.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2013 01:49 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times

Remember the mesmerising number ‘Khawaja mere Khawaja’ from Bollywood film Jodha Akbar. It is inspired by the life of 12th-13th century Sufi saint Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti.

Even politicians, including those in saffron robes, prefer to kick-start their election campaign after paying their obeisance here at the mazaar (tomb) of the Sufi saint, who promoted understanding between the Muslims and non-Muslims.

But the virtuous atmosphere of tolerance evaporates as soon as the majestic Nizam gate, the main entrance to the shrine, is crossed and people meander into the same shells of religion, caste, sub-caste, etc. as they walk through the Dargah Bazaar, dotted with 400-odd shops selling souvenirs.

And this division is palpable as you find your way through the congested lane – here it is Hindus vs Muslims, Sindhis vs Vaishyas, et al.

Till some years ago, Jains owned a major chunk of the huge Lakhankotri residential area. But as their families and finances grew, they moved to bigger locations, selling their property to Muslims, who mostly live around the dargah and today either run guesthouses or work as khadims (meaning servitor, but in this people who escort pilgrims to the dargah).

The fissures that were simmering since the Babri Masjid destruction in 1992 came on the surface after the Ajmer blast of October 2007. Narendra Modi’s plunge into national politics has deepened the divide.

A khadim said, “We were always confident that nothing would happen to Hindu-Muslim unity. The involvement of Hindu religious leaders shocked us.” (The police picked up Bhavesh Patel and named RSS leaders complicit in the case.)

The twists and turns in the case gave fodder to the two communities to blame each other in a city where the RSS has been active from the days of the freedom movement.

Sindhis by and large own the Dargah Bazaar and their connection with the RSS dates back to 1947.

A shopkeeper said: “The RSS, active those days in the Sindh side of Pakistan, helped us settle here.”

Local people claim the RSS’s controversial Trishul Diksha programme started here. Pravin Togadia, a Bajrang Dal leader, was arrested by the Ashok Gehlot government for displaying and distributing tridents to volunteers in 2003. The government has since banned the display, distribution and possession of tridents.

Move further, the two big business communities of Ajmer – the Sindhis and the Vaishyas – have also been locked in a fierce battle for decades for political supremacy. While the Sindhis want to retain their more than 50-year hold on Ajmer politics – they held the Ajmer North constituency since Independence – the Vaishyas, who are sizeable in number, are resisting their marginalisation. Before the 2008 elections, both had staged agitations, and issued veiled threats in several memorandums sent to political parties.

The Vaishyas finally succeeded in 2008 as the Congress conceded their demand for candidature. SR Goyal, president of the Agarwal Association, had then said, “Eight per cent Sindhis (after delimitation) have been politically controlling the seat for over 50 years. We asserted and as a pressure tactic even fielded our own candidate.” However, the Vaishya candidate failed to win the seat.

Once again in 2013, the Sindhi winner, Vasudev Devnani, and the Vaishya runner-up, Gopal Baheti, are in the fray.

The spiritual journey is indeed short-circuited by discordant notes.

First Published: Nov 26, 2013 00:44 IST