The UPShot | CM Yogi’s Kashi-Mathura Pitch, with Lessons from Mahabharata And Ayodhya

What are the takeaways for the longstanding temple-mosque disputes in Uttar Pradesh’s Kashi and Mathura from Ayodhya? The question suddenly became the most debated one in UP’s political circles, especially after chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s Wednesday speech in which he not only touched upon the ongoing disputes surrounding the holy sites in Kashi and Mathura but also supported the demand for temples at the two places, drawing parallels with Ayodhya–the town that recently witnessed a grand consecration ceremony at the Ram Mandir.

‘We want only three places’

CM Aditynath’s address on Wednesday in the state assembly stands out. It began with a reference to the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which he used to rake up the contentious issue of the Gyanvapi mosque dispute in Varanasi (Kashi) and the Shahi Idgah mosque dispute in Mathura. “Injustice was done to Ayodhya. When I talk about injustice, we remember the incident that occurred 5,000 years ago when Pandavas had only sought five villages from Kauravas but they did not give them. In our country, the majority community wanted only three places (Ayodhya, Kashi, and Mathura). But for that too they are made to beg,” said Yogi Adityanath amid discussions during the motion of thanks on the governor’s speech in the UP assembly.

According to the Mahabharata, in order to maintain peace and avert war, Krishna proposed that if five villages were given to the Pandavas, they would be satisfied and would make no more demands. However, Duryodhana vehemently refused, commenting that he would not part even with land that would fit on the point of a needle, and thus the stage was set for the great war.

‘Previous governments neglected Ayodhya’

The UP CM also criticised previous governments, especially of the Samajwadi Party (SP), for their stand on the Ram temple issue and for neglecting development in Ayodhya, stating that during those times, the holy town faced curfews and prohibitions. “Ayodhya faced injustice similar to what Pandavas faced 5,000 years ago…We do agree that the temple dispute was in court but the roads there could have been widened, ghats could have been beautified and electricity could have been supplied or airport facilities could have been built, but nothing like that happened,” he said.

Yogi Adityanath also highlighted the grand consecration ceremony held in Ayodhya on January 22 and also the recent episode in which the Varanasi district court gave permission to offer prayers in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque. “When celebrations were held in Ayodhya, then Nandi Baba said ‘why should I wait?’ Without waiting, the barricades were broken over the night. Aur hamare Krishna Kanhaiya bhi ab kahan manne wale hain (And, now our Krishna too cannot be convinced otherwise),” he said.

The CM also underscored the importance of Ayodhya’s Ram temple consecration, affirming his government’s commitment to fulfil the promises made to the people. He also highlighted the temple’s impact on Ayodhya’s development.

‘Country will accept only Ram Rajya’s principles’

The chief minister condemned the opposition’s indifferent approach towards the sacred issues, accusing them of neglecting public sentiments and trying to divert people’s attention from significant milestones such as the Ram temple event.

Citing UP governor Anandiben Patel’s remark that the country is witnessing “Ram Rajya taking shape”, the CM said, “I say that the country will accept only Ram Rajya’s principles and not that of Samajwadi.”

Kashi and Mathura next on agenda?

The UP CM’s remarks have sparked a fresh debate, with political pundits saying that it was less a speech and more a push to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh RSS)’s next political agenda in the state.

“Prior to speaking on the issue, I would like to highlight one old slogan–’Ayodhya toh bas jhanki hai, Kashi aur Mathura abhi baki hai (Ayodhya was just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still left)’. The UP chief minister’s speech was nothing but a push to the RSS-BJP’s next agenda after the recent Ram temple consecration,” said Shashikant Pandey, a political analyst and head of the political science department at Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.

He said it is not the first time that any BJP or RSS functionary has spoken out for Varanasi and Mathura. “In 2022, in an interview, BJP president JP Nadda while speaking on the pending mosque-temple litigations said the religious matters would be decided by courts and the Constitution and the party would implement the decisions in letter and spirit,” Pandey told News18.

In the same year, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in a speech issued a strict directive that there would be no campaign around the demands to restore the temple at the site of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. “The only way to settle the Gyanvapi dispute would be through dialogue and accommodation,” he added.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti said that the disputed Kashi and Mathura sites should be exempted from the Places of Worship Act.

Mathura dispute

The Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura was built on the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb adjacent to the Krishna Janmasthan — believed to be the place where Lord Krishna was born. Hindu parties to the litigation claim that the 17th-century Mughal-era mosque was built after demolishing a temple at the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The demand was admitted by a local court in December last year but the Muslim side filed an objection in the High Court.

So far, nine cases have been filed in the Mathura court in the cases of Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi and Shahi Idgah Masjid. A common thread in all the petitions is a prayer for the removal of the mosque from the 13.77-acre complex, which it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple.

ASI’s disclosures

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in response to an RTI plea recently disclosed that Aurangzeb demolished the Keshavdev Temple at the Krishna Janmabhoomi site to build a mosque in Mathura. The ASI revealed an excerpt from a November 1920 gazette, which stated that a temple of Keshavdev once stood on a portion of the Katra mound there.

“Portions of Katra mound which are not in the possession of Nazul tenants (property belonging to government) on which formerly stood a temple of Keshavdev which was dismantled and the site utilised for the mosque of Aurangzeb,” the ASI’s document stated.

Gyanvapi dispute

In August 2021, Rakshi Singh and four other Hindu women approached the Varanasi civil court, seeking the right to worship Hindu deities within the Gyanvapi mosque premises all through the year. In their claim, the plaintiffs had said that the Gyanvyapi mosque and its premises were once a Hindu temple. They claimed that Mughal ruler Aurangzeb had demolished the temple and built the mosque above it. The court had directed ASI to carry out an intense survey of the Gyanvapi mosque. The aim was to determine if the mosque had been constructed over the pre-existing structure of a Hindu temple or not. In its report, the ASI revealed that a pre-existing structure appeared to have been destroyed in the 17th century, and “part of it was modified and reused”, adding that based on scientific studies, it can be said that there “existed a large Hindu temple prior to the construction of the existing mosque”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi witnessed a historic moment when a puja was performed in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi complex, a day after a local court’s order, which directed authorities to make arrangements for the worship of the idols by plaintiff Shailendra Kumar Pathak Vyas and a priest nominated by Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust within seven days.

The court’s order came on a petition filed by Vyas against the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque. According to the lawsuit, priest Somnath Vyas used to perform prayers there till 1993 when the cellar was closed by the authorities. Shailendra Kumar Pathak Vyas is the maternal grandson of Somnath Vyas. All four cellars of the mosque were sealed in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 amid fears of law-and-order problems. Permanent barriers were also erected at that time.

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