Over to Kashi

Print edition : March 13, 2020

Remains of the old Vishwanath temple. The open space in front of the columns is where Shringaar Gauri puja will take place in March. Photo: purnima s. tripathi

Sudhir Singh, general secretary of the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mukti Andolan. Photo: By special arrangement

Baba Balak Das, national spokesman of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti. Photo: Purnima S. Tripathi

Hindutva organisations launch a mass movement in Varanasi to “liberate” the Kashi Vishwanath temple from the Gyanvapi mosque.

WITH the construction of the proposed Ram temple to begin soon at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, fringe Hindutva outfits have started flexing their muscles with slogans of “liberating” the Kashi Vishwanath temple from the “clutches” of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. New organisations have sprung up in Varanasi claiming ownership of the movement. Two such organisations, the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti and the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mukti Andolan, have announced immediate programmes to commence a mass movement.

“Liberating the Ram Janmabhoomi temple was the first phase of our movement, and it is now complete. The second phase will involve the freeing of the Kashi Vishwanath temple from the stranglehold of the Gyanvapi mosque. The third phase will focus on the liberation of the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple in Mathura. These are the only three temples the Hindu samaj wants. Now that the Ram temple project is over [that is, the Supreme Court verdict that the disputed site in Ayodhya should be given for the construction of a Ram temple], we will start work on the second phase,” said Baba Balak Das, the national spokesman of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti. The samiti he claims to represent is an umbrella organisation of 18.5 lakh sants from all over India.

Baba Balak Das, who heads the Patalpuri Math in Varanasi, told Frontline that the Mughals damaged over 30 lakh temples in India, but “Hindus want only three temples back”. “We are not asking for Mecca or Madina. We only want those temples that are most sacred for crores of Hindus all over the world. Now that the Ram Janmabhoomi temple movement is complete, we will start work on the liberation of the Kashi Vishwanath temple,” he said. 

According to him, since the remnants of the old Vishwanath temple are still visible on the walls of the Gyanvapi mosque, there is no dispute here, unlike in the Ayodhya dispute, where it was argued that a temple had been damaged to build the Babri mosque. “In the interest of long-lasting peace and communal harmony, Muslims should amicably hand over these sites to us,” he said. In order to convince Muslims to do this, he said, a mass movement to create public awareness would be launched on the fourth day of chaitra navaratri (in March-April), which is considered auspicious.

It is on this day that Hindus perform the Shringaar Gauri puja at one of the spots along the wall of the Gyanvapi mosque. “This year, we will do a huge puja for Shringaar Gauri, and pray to the deity to give us strength so that we can liberate Baba Vishwanath from the kalank [curse] of the mosque,” he said. After the puja, the sants would go around the country, hold discourses, and tell people how the Mughals damaged the Vishwanath temple to build the mosque there. “We are free to preach and spread awareness about our religion. We are not going to use any force. Whatever we do will be according to court orders, the Constitution and only after due permission is got from the government,” he said. For now, the movement would be peaceful but “if need be, we will give our sacrifice, like we did for the Ram mandir”, he said, smug with the confidence that with sympathetic governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, there will be no obstacles to their movement.

Baba Balak Das is talking about starting a movement sometime in April, but the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mukti Andolan has already launched one. Before the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992, on a call from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, Hindus in Ayodhya and Lucknow used to blow the conch, beat ghantas and ghariyaals and chant “Jai Sriram” every evening from their rooftop. The outfit has asked Hindus in Varanasi to blow the conch, beat ghanta-ghariyaal and chant “Har Har Mahadev” from 8-8.30 p.m. on Sivratri day (February 21), and on every Monday from then on. They have exhorted Hindus to collectively participate in this and offer jalabhishek at any Siva temple every Monday.

Members of the Mukti Andolan will organise the programme at Assi Ghat in Varanasi on Sivratri and at some Siva temple every Monday. Ironically, the organisation is headed by Sudhir Singh, who is general secretary of the Pragtisheel Samajwadi Party, which is led by Shivpal Yadav, brother of the Samajwadi Party’s chief patron, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam Singh earned the sobriquet “Maulana Mulayam” for ordering the firing on kar sevaks when they tried to force their way into Ayodhya in 1990, after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani was arrested at Samastipur in Bihar by the Lalu Prasad government on October 23, 1990, when his Ram Rath Yatra entered the State.

Sudhir Singh has filed a petition in the Varanasi civil court demanding that the Kashi Vishwanath temple be freed and the Anjuman Intazamia Masjid, which, according to him, is in illegal possession of the mosque, should vacate the complex because there is evidence for everyone to see that the mosque was built after damaging a temple that was considered sacred by Hindus all over the world. “We are also requesting the Muslim community that in the larger interest of the country, for long-lasting peace and communal harmony, they should willingly vacate the premises,” he told Frontline. Members of the Mukti Andolan plan to meet Anjuman Intezamia members and personally request them to vacate the Gyanvapi mosque.

Although the VHP has so far kept away from this initiative, those associated with the Kashi movement say that sooner or later it will come on board. “When they get the green signal from above, they will join us. Otherwise it will become difficult for them,” says Baba Balak Das.

It maybe recalled that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was started by sants, and the VHP entered the movement at a later stage and then the BJP coopted it. Those associated with the Kashi movement are confident that even this campaign will follow the same trajectory. The only difference now, they say, is that there are friendly governments both at the Centre and in the State. “Will this government order firing on sants?” asks Baba Balak Das, providing answers to other questions.

Ever since the Kashi Vishwanath corridor project began in 2018 (Cover Story, Frontline, December 7, 2018; “Steamrolling ahead”, Frontline, January 18, 2019), there have been misgivings among Muslims that this beautification and modernisation drive was a facade to make way for the demolition of the Gyanvapi mosque.

 Muslims fear that since heritage houses and buildings and shops around the mosque have been demolished, and the remnants of the old temple are now clearly visible from a distance, it will be used as a tool by Hindutva elements to stoke anger and provoke people. 

It is important to remember that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s clarion call has been, “Ayodhya to jhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai” (Ayodhya is just a glimpse, Kashi-Mathura are still left).

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