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Religious agenda keeps powder dry in India

Updated December 08, 2014

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The file photo shows Hindu nationalists celebrate with fire crackers after Ayodhya verdict in Amritsar, India.—AP/File
The file photo shows Hindu nationalists celebrate with fire crackers after Ayodhya verdict in Amritsar, India.—AP/File

NEW DELHI: Under the banner of the United Hindu Front, a group of around 100 people staged a “celebration” on the December 6 anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, newspapers said on Sunday.

In Delhi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj offered unexpected support to a patently religious move to declare the Bhagwad Gita a national scripture.

In Lucknow, the same day, the Uttar Pradesh state chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reheated an old Hindutva claim that the Taj Mahal was built on a Hindu temple.

Laxmi Kant Bajpai on his part was responding to his reactionary Muslim counterpoint, the state’s Waqf minister Azam Khan, who has been quoted as seeking the return of the 17th century Mughal monument to the state’s Sunni Waqf Board. This has apparently riled a Shia group in Lucknow, which claimed that the Taj was built in the memory of a Shia queen.

Those at the Babri celebration claimed that with a “Hindu-leaning government” in Delhi, a Ram temple will now be built at the site of the mosque.

The group — all carrying saffron flags — was led by Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena president and BJP leader Jai Bhagwan Goyal. He is currently facing charges for being involved in the demolition.

“For the past 22 years, this has been a day of celebration as the ‘bajrangis’ brought down the Babri Masjid. Since then, we have fought court battles. But now, times have changed. We have a Prime Minister. I believe we will move towards the establishment of Ram Rajya,” Goyal said.

Minister supports move to declare Bhagwad Gita ‘national scripture’

Pressing for the Modi government to declare Bhagwad Gita as a ‘Rashtriya Granth’ (national scripture), Ms Swaraj was quoted as saying that only a formality remai­ned to be done in this regard. This triggered a controversy with Trinamool Congress saying Constitution is the “Holy Book” in a democracy.

Ms Swaraj was speaking at ‘Gita Prerna Mahotsav’, organised “to celebrate 5,151 years of religious book Gita” at the Red Fort Maidan where VHP President Ashok Singhal was present.

He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should immediately declare the sacred text of Hindus as a national scripture. The minister said she was able to face the challenges of her work only because of the teachings of Bhagwad Gita.

She also said that the respect of a “national scripture” was accorded to Gita when Prime Minister Modi gifted it to US President Barack Obama during his visit to the country in September this year.

“Bhagwad Gita has answers to everybody’s problems and that’s why I said it while standing in the Parlia­ment that, ‘Shrimad Bhag­wad Gita’ should be declared as the national holy book.”

Reacting to Ms Swaraj’s remarks, Trinamool Cong­ress said: “Our Constitution says India is a secular country. The Constitution is the Holy Book in a democracy. We respect all Holy Books. Quran, Puran, Ved, Vedanta, Bible, Tripitak, Zend Avesta, Guru Granth Sahib, Gita — All are our pride,” the TMC said in a tweet.

Congress leader Manish Tewari said the essence of the Gita lies in its substance and not in its symbolism.

Senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar who was present reportedly said the UN should also declare Gita Divas as it is announcing June 21 as Yoga Day.

In Lucknow, after Samjawadi minister Azam Khan’s demand of handing over the Taj Mahal to UP Waqf Board, Mr Bajpai sought to drag the famed mausoleum into another row by claiming that it was a part of an ancient temple.

Mr Bajpai told reporters in Bahraich that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan “purchased a part of Tejo Mahalaya temple’s land from Raja Jai Singh” and claimed that documents to prove it still exist.

He also claimed that “Azam Khan has usurped property of Waqf and is now eyeing the world heritage Taj Mahal”.

However, spokesman for All India Shia Personal Law Board, said: “As far as Mumtaz Mahal is concerned, she was a Shia, but Taj Mahal is heritage of the country and it should not be handed over to Sunni or Shia boards.”

He said Shia and Sunni boards were unable to maintain their mosques and madressahs. “How will they handle Taj Mahal?”

Published in Dawn December 8th , 2014