Residents of Mathura woke up on Monday morning to find their city resembling a fortress, especially the areas around the temple town’s most iconic landmark — Shri Krishna Janmasthan Temple. The local administration, supervised by top officials of the Uttar Pradesh government, has ramped up security after a few right-wing groups threatened to install an idol of Lord Krishna in the adjacent Shahi Idgah mosque on December 6.
December 6 also happens to be the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. In response to the strident line by these right-wing groups, some Muslim groups have decided to observe the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary to raise their concern.
The police have thrown a three-tiered security ring around the Katra Keshav Dev area, where the temple rubs shoulders in a historic dispute with Shahi Idgah mosque.
The security is unprecedented as unlike Ayodhya, home to the Ram janamnbhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, Mathura did not face any threats to harmony in several decades. But the threats by some right-wing groups to perform Hindu rituals inside the mosque has shattered the calm.
Every road connecting the town to the national and state highways has police barricades. Even the narrow gauge railway track that runs behind the temple-mosque complexes has been shut down.
The two pilgrimage trains between the twin cities of Mathura-Vrindavan will be staying in the yards. Prohibitory orders against assembly of people are in place. Those entering the temple or the mosque in random checks are being asked to provide some proof of identity. The entire complex, which already had a huge security cover, is being monitored by CCTVs and police drones.
MATHURA IS ANXIOUS
Four right-wing organisations — Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, Srikrishna Janmabhumi Nirman Nyas, Narayani Sena and the Srikrishna Mukti Dal — had triggered an alert by seeking permission to install an idol of Laddu Gopal (infant Lord Krishna) inside the mosque in December after performing Hindu rituals. They claimed the site of mosque as the deity’s “actual birthplace”.
Speaking to India Today TV, Mathura Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Gaurav Grover said, “The police have worked overtime to ensure that peace and tranquil in the temple town is maintained. All the organisations that gave the call have backed down. Police and paramilitary forces are in place to block any attempts. We have spoken to elders and religious heads on both sides. The message from Lucknow is to display zero tolerance to trouble makers.”
POLICE’S PREVENTIVE ACTION
To neutralise the threats, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Mathura district president of the Hindu Mahasabha, Chhaya Gautam, and the group’s Mathura leader Rishi Bhardwaj on December 4.
Rajshree Choudhary, the president of All India Hindu Mahasabha, claimed her activities were being forced by the Mathura administration to post videos calling off their symbolic move.
Choudhary, who claims to be the great granddaughter of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, told India Today that the proposed march to the mosque and the ‘jalabhishek’ programme will be organised on December 6 at all costs and her activists cannot be denied the right to worship.
The other organisation, the Narayani Sena, also found some of its activists under detention. The outfit, led by one Manish Yadav, is threatening to launch a “fast unto death” protest in Lucknow if their members are not released immediately.
Rajesh Mani Tripathi, the national president of Krishna Janmabhoomi Mukti Dal, was also placed under preventive custody as he posted allegedly provocative content on social media.
Dev Murari of Krishna Janmabhoomi Nirman Nyas has several criminal cases against him. In fact, he is said to have launched his organisation with a name that’s similar to the one that runs the janambhoomi temple. A senior police official alleged that the idea was to gain support and attract donations.
BABRI MASJID DEMOLITION ANNIVERSARY
The right-wing groups, by declaring their intent, have questioned the validity of the settlement between the two communities. Their threat to defy the settlement signed between the Committee of Management of Trust Masjid Idgah and the Society Shree Krishna Janamasthan Seva Sangh on October 12, 1968, has deeply unsettled the members of the minority community, for whom the memories of Ayodhya are still fresh.
There are more reasons to worry. In a Twitter post on December 1, Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya claimed, “Ayodhya Kashi bhavya mandir nirmaan jaari hai, Mathura ki taiyaari hai (construction of grand temples in Ayodhya and Kashi are underway, preparations for Mathura is also on).
In view of the threats and the minister’s tweet, some Muslim groups have decided to observe the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary to raise their concern.
These groups had also approached the Mathura district administration, seeking action to ensure that the ‘jalabhishek’ programme is not carried out at the Shahi Idgah mosque. They claimed such a development may fuel tension in the entire Braj region of Uttar Pradesh.
However, the police and local administration officials are trying to convince the minority community members that the threat calls don’t have the backing of the state administration.
ADG Agra Zone Rajiv Krishna told India Today TV that no one would be allowed to disturb the peace in the temple town. Any violation will be dealt with firmly, he said.
FEAR AMONG MINORITY COMMUNITY
In most mohallas, the huge security arrangement didn’t completely convince the minority community members. While most swore by the traditional bonhomie between the two communities, the timing of the threats has raised fears that the communal forces may use this issue for political gains during the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly election.
In fact, the police’s local intelligence unit has reported that the number of people visiting the mosque in the disputed zone for prayers multiplied manifold after the threats were made. Local police had to ask devotees entering the mosque to display proof of identity.
Dr Z Hasan, president of the Shahi Idgah Trust, said Muslims fear that all this could be part of an exercise to create a divide ahead of the elections.
“I have lived in Mathura for more than five decades. In Mathura, people have learnt to live in harmony with the blessings of Lord Krishna and Allah. I have inscriptions in Sanskrit on the walls of my school and teachings of Holy Quran side by side,” Hasan said.
Sitting in his library, Hasan told India Today, “There is anxiety. Muslims fear that there are attempts to stoke communal fires. They wonder after Ayodhya, the escalation in dispute over Krishna Janmasthan will open the floodgates. It could be Fatehpur Sikri or mosques in Agra and other towns next. That’s why more people have started visiting the mosque.”
Other members of the Idgah trust said they were preparing for a long haul as the slew of petitions asking the courts to set aside the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, allegedly has political backing.
Experts feel the 1991 law passed by then PV Narasimha Rao-led government had insulated disputed religious sites like Mathura and Kashi. Section 4 of the Act preserves the “religious character” of a place of worship, as it existed on August 15, 1947. The Act also says that any court proceeding regarding any such conversion would cease after the Act comes into force.
THE ECONOMICS OF PEACE
India Today spoke to a number of local residents and religious heads over the last two days.
Residents of both minority and majority communities emphatically disassociated themselves from strident calls. They also said they could see the similarities between what happened in Ayodhya in the past and what’s being attempted in Mathura.
A senior lecturer in a Mathura college said, “In case of Ayodhya, it was Babur, the Mughal king. In case of Mathura, it’s Aurangzeb. In Ayodhya, the statue of Ram Lalla was sneaked inside the mosque in 1949. Now some obscure outfits want to perform Hindu rituals and install Lord Krishna’s statue in the mosque. In Ayodhya, Muslims lost their mosque and were given land far from the disputed site. In Mathura, there are offers of an alternative plot of land beyond the 84 kos (258 km) periphery.”
Tucked inside one of the narrow lanes of Mathura, there are a few manufacturing units which define the abiding communal harmony. Pappu, a 45-year-old Muslim artisan, is known for creating the shiny semi-precious stone-studded crown that rests on the forehead of ‘Laddu Gopal’, the reigning deity at the Krishna Janmasthan temple for the last several years. His small workshop churns out hundreds of crowns each month. These reach almost every temple in Mathura and Vrindavan and even abroad.
“The crown on the lord’s forehead is changed once every year on Janmashtami. I have been providing the crown for several years. I make crowns for small to big statues of Laddu Gopal ji. But if someone asks me, how can I give my mosque away. We want outsiders to let people of Mathura live the way we have,” Pappu told India Today TV.
The business community in Mathura is nervous, too. Unlike Ayodhya, which had a history of unrest, curfews and dislocation that never allowed businesses to flourish, Mathura is a vibrant business hub and a tourism and pilgrimage destination.
A Muslim trader in old Mathura area said, “Members of both communities depend on the flow of pilgrims and devotees of Lord Krishna. Muslims worship Allah and respect the Hindu gods as many owe the food on our tables to Lord Krishna.”
Sitting in his eighth retail outlet, Rajeev Brijwasi, the owner of famous Brijwasi Sweets — one of Mathura’s success stories, said, “We have grown from one store selling our famous ‘peda’ few decades ago to owning eight outlets and four hotels. People of mathura do not endorse any stridency. Business will suffer if Mathura goes the Ayodhya way, especially after almost a year of lockdowns and restrictions.”