A chance test case for Shringar Gauri puja outside, the survey for it, and the surprise discovery of Shivling - supposedly the creator and destructor at the old temple of Lord Vishwanath or Gyanvapi has charged the political scenario with a religious fervour possibly giving a boost to the preparation for 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Would it make the Congress's effort at Udaipur futile and boost up the votary of Hindutva for a new stretch of political success? It definitely would firm up the religious thrust of Indian politics as Varanasi is the city of Shiv. Adages are that Shiv used to visit this city from his Himalayan home every year. None possibly expected that the Shiv would come out of a dirty ‘vaju’ tank in all his manifestation to energise his devotees.
It may be the beginning of a new judicial process that unravels the murky medieval Indian history marked by many demolitions of temples, atrocities, and killings. The Gyanvapi can have an impact on at least ten different places, where the medieval rulers had taken recourse to the extreme brutality of converting religious structures killing thousands. These are – Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi in the oldest living city of Varanasi; Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah -5000-year-old; Rudra Mahalaya in Patan, Gujarat; Bhojshala Saraswati Mandir - Kamal Maula mosque at Bhojshala in MP; Adinath Temple – Adina mosque at Pandua, West Bengal; Bhadra Kali Temple – Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad, Gujarat; Vijaya Temple – Bijamandal mosque, Vidisha, MP; 27 Hindu and Jain Temples – Quawwat- ul- Islam Qutb Minar complex; Somnath and Ram Janmabhoomi Temple – now restored.
Gyanvapi re-ignites the issue which was supposed to have been settled with the judgment of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple by the Supreme Court. The five Supreme Court judges took note of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 that laid down that all shrines will be preserved as inherited by independent India on August 15, 1947. The law made an exception for Ayodhya as it was already an ongoing dispute. Nothing else was deserving of an exception, nor was it legally or constitutionally possible, the judges wrote.
The quick scenario change in the Gyanvapi incident may raise the question of the validity of the enactment of the Places of Worship law by the Narasimha Rao government. Sentiments are high not only in Varanasi but all over. Seeming non-partisan people like PK Roy, former executive director, Airports Authority of India in Kolkata; Lalima Aneja Dang, a senior radio producer; Priyadarshi Dutt, author, commentator; former editor of Doordarshan Prabhat Dabral are all charged and advising that it is prudent to settle and not react on this emotive issue. Former Vice-Chancellor of Nagpur University SN Pathan and another Vice Chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed have appealed to the minorities to correct the steps and maintain harmony. Left-leaning Dabral says minorities must rethink despots like Aurangzeb and instead have consideration for the nation and sort it out.
The one common question the non-political elites are asking is how could someone treat the revered Shivling with such contempt that they established the wash-tank above that. It is difficult to say whether it would have the same manifestation and feelings till elections or not. The sentiments expressed speak volumes of the hurt feelings.
The nation may recall that since 1949, the Babri structure for all purposes was the Ram temple. Emotive issues are not forgotten. That led to the demolition of the structure in 1992. The way now the Gyanvapi is flaring up with a non-issue of the plea for the right to worship Shringar Gauri images sculpted on the outer wall of the Gyanvapi to the appointment of commissioners to do the survey of the premises and find of Shivlinga indicates that the issue of demolition by Aurangzeb on Sept 2, 1669, can widely impact the course of Indian politics. The Hindutva-oriented parties would have ease in accessing the voters. Those not would have to find out the new political peg to remain relevant and vibrant.
It may start with Hyderabad’s Bhagyalakshmi temple. The TRS of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao may have to take a stand on the crucial Bhagyalakshmi temple in the Charminar complex. Rao, facing pincer attacks from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Amit Shah may have to stir with deftness. The others and even MIM may pitch in to make the Telangana assembly elections interesting.
Whether Gujarat would like to rake up the Bhadrakali and Rudra Mahalaya issues, Madhya Pradesh ignites Vidisha and Bhojshala or not the development of the ensuing days would reveal. Maybe in MP and Gujarat, BJP will try to keep it on low fire but the Opposition, keen on proving loyalty to Hindus can try sailing on it as BJP may look for a chance in Bengal to peg on Adinath, Pandua.
Alok Kumar, president of VHP, an eminent lawyer, is categorical, “There has been no change in the status of the religious structure since 1947, and Hindus have always performed puja at the site” calling it Gyanvapi Mandir. VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal said the faces of those who were trying to "hide the truth" have been "painted black" with the "finding".
The Congress two days back at Udaipur Chintan meet supported the 1947 law regarding Gyanvapi. Today so far it has not come out with a similar supportive statement. In the BJP only Sangeet Som has threatened a replay of the 1992 'Babri demolition'. But the BJP is happy with the Varanasi court developments giving it time to extend the restrictions at the Gyanvapi. They, being the rulers in UP, are acting with caution so that the gains take them to the logical conclusion. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is personally observing each of the developments.
J&K PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti slammed the BJP for stoking the fire. It is simple. MIM leader A Owaisi says he is pained.
The Gyanvapi will decide the religious fervour of Indian politics. The parties not aligned with BJP’s views have the challenge to tailor new strategies. The minorities are in a dilemma. They are not keen on sailing with it or giving up but the voices within are advising not to get into another confrontation and solve it prudently.
Howsoever, it develops it would keep Indian politics warm and parties would have to stir cautiously to chart their way to 2024 Lok Sabha and many assembly elections before that. The churning continues and the nation hopes that a solution would emerge for a prosperous, peaceful nation.
(The writer is a veteran journalist, an observer of the socio-politico economy, and a media academician)