Our jovial, fun-loving and mischievous (in a pleasant way) lord Ganesh is being recruited in the war of Hindutva politics. After Ram, it is his turn. It would be more appropriate to say that the lord is being used as a cover. Hiding behind him are people with forked tongues who know that they still cannot say directly that they want to take over the land and property of Muslims.
Why can’t they say and do this openly? Even though their governments are now almost everywhere and the police and other state agencies will find a reason to defend their action? One of the reasons is that there is still some life left in the judiciary. The sense of justice has not completely disappeared, as was evident on the eve of the Ganesh Chaturthi.
On August 30, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court held an extraordinary hearing, sitting late into the evening. This was because the Karnataka government insisted that it wanted to allow Ganesh pandals at Bangalore’s Idgah ground, which has traditionally been used by Muslims for prayers on special occasions.
The Idgah committee first went to the Karnataka High Court, asking it to prevent the government from doing so. This is a property owned by Muslims and only Muslim festivals have been held here for the last 200 years. A one-member bench of the Karnataka High Court had refused to give the state government permission to hold the event at the site. The government went to court to appeal this decision.
An outsider watching this development would be left wondering about the government’s interest in this matter. Why is it so adamant about using this particular ground for the Ganesh festival?
Of course, anyone who has been observing the direction in which India has been moving in the last eight years would not be surprised at all. This is also in keeping with how the Karnataka government has been behaving: it was not so long ago that it decided to ban students wearing hijabs in educational institutions.
The Karnataka High court constituted a two-judge bench to hear the government’s appeal against the order of its single-judge bench. The division bench changed the decision of the single-judge bench. It said that India is home to believers of various religions. The Constitution talks about fraternity among all sections of India. The characteristic of Indian civilisation is religious tolerance. Therefore, the Ganesh festival could and should be celebrated at the Idgah ground, it said.
This is strange logic. Does the state government of Karnataka want to forcefully organise Ganesh celebrations at the Idgah grounds to foster religious tolerance?
If you forcibly try to enter my house and if I refuse to let you in, could I be accused of being intolerant? After this, the Idgah representatives had no option but to approach the Supreme Court.
First, a two-judge bench of the highest court heard the pleas. There was a difference of opinion. One judge felt that Ganesh puja could be allowed. The second refused to give permission for this.
By the time this order came, the court was about to wind up its business for the day. The lawyers of the Idgah Committee had to rush to the Chief Justice, requesting him to resolve the deadlock. He had to constitute a three-judge bench.
Asked if there was no other site where the ceremony could be organised, counsel for the government clearly said that the question was not about the availability of spaces. There were plenty of vacant grounds. But they wanted the ceremonies to be conducted at this very Idgah ground. For him, it was a matter of principle.
For 200 years, no such event had taken place in this Idgah ground. So why this insistence now, the bench wanted to know. The government’s argument was that if children could play here, why couldn’t Ganesh worship be conducted?
Eventually, the bench said that the government could not do this. The government thought of a new strategy. It argued that no permanent structure would be built. It was, after all, a matter of only two days. Advocate Dushyant Dave reminded the court of the fate of the undertaking by the government of Uttar Pradesh just before the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.
There, too, the government had made a promise to safeguard the mosque. It was cleverly broken. The courts could do nothing. Karnataka is ruled by the same political party that broke its promise 30 years ago. Later, its leader bragged about the fraud they had committed to have the mosque destroyed. They had no shame about going back on their word. How can the word of the lawyer of the government of the same political party be trusted today?
The government made the last move. The preparations had been completed. A tent had been erected. Allow it this time, please. But the court had made up its mind. It told the government that all the tent could be removed overnight. Status quo should be maintained in the Idgah.
Although the campaign to start the capture of Idgah in Bangalore has been stalled for now, the Karnataka government took advantage of the ambiguity in the ownership of the Idgah ground in Hubballi and got permission from the Karnataka High Court to hold Ganeshotsav there. The Karnataka High Court felt that the Supreme Court order did not apply there as the ownership was not exclusively with the Waqf board and the authority that held its title also had a say about the way it could be used.
The court was not interested in the larger picture: it did not ask what point that the government wanted to prove by allowing Ganesh idols to be installed at the Idgah grounds.
One may ask why the government is so interested in celebrating the Ganesh festival at the Idgah grounds. We should also ask whether organising Ganeshotsav is the responsibility of the government. Why is it hell-bent on using a Muslim site to hold for Hindu festivals under the pretext of religious harmony?
Some people lament that when large parts of Karnataka are battling floods, the state government has been focused on getting Ganesh idols installed at various Idgah grounds. What does it say about the government’s priorities?
We know the answer to this question. The government hardly cares. Hindus are being thrown into a war against Muslims. Their inner prejudices are being stirred. All kinds of tricks are being used to evict Muslims from public places or take away their collective spaces.
Behind the insistence of the Ganeshotsav at the Idgah grounds, everyone knows that there is no reverence for Ganesh. As it was not reverence for Ram that has motivated the construction of Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid.
This is an attempt to prove that it is the writ of Hindutva supporters that runs in this country. They can do whatever they want at the time of their choosing and at the place they deem fit. The administration, the police and then the court will not stop them and in fact will then justify their actions.
The devices of planting a sacred peepal, placing idols and organising bhajan aartis have long been used to capture Muslim graveyards. Now the governments has also got involved in a similar endeavour. When Muslims oppose such attempts, they are called intolerant.
Why should they object to a saffron flag being planted at mosques? Why can’t they enjoy the foisting of this syncretism in their religious and cultural places? Why should they refuse to allow bhajans in a mosque? These are among the questions asked with seeming innocence.
Because of the viciousness instilled by Hindutva organisations, Hindu festivals are now becoming a source of friction with other communities. Instead of joy, they leave a trail of bitterness and sometimes of blood – as we saw at several places last Ramanavami.
Are Hindus happy about this?
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.
This is an expanded version of an article published in Hindi on The Wire Hindi.