Gone is the promise of ‘acchhe din’, of crores of jobs every year, of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ and ‘sabka vishwas’. As 2024 approaches, a hyped up religious frenzy is on display again and the BJP’s politics has once again veered round to the mandir-masjid issues.

With Amit Shah proclaiming recently in Tripura that Ram Mandir in Ayodhya will be ready in January 2024, and other Hindutva organisations demanding control over the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura, it's back to the basics for BJP once again.

After the clamour over offering puja inside Gyanvapi mosque during much of 2022, it is now the turn of Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura to be in the spotlight. On December 24, 2022, a Mathura district civil court ordered a survey of the Shahi Idgah Mosque which lies adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple in Mathura. Thus paving the way for prolonged bitter litigation and hyped up religious frenzy, a la Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi.

In Varanasi, a similar survey ordered by a district court has resulted in right wing organisations demanding the right to worship at the so-called shivalinga located inside the mosque complex. This shivalinga, which Muslims claimed was a fountain, was used for wazu by them before offering prayer. Now this lies locked inside heavy security till its real identity is ascertained, as per Supreme Court orders.

It is no secret that Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura have been on the BJP’s agenda for years. Their slogan has always been: “Ayodhya to bas jhaanki hai, Kashi Mathura baaki hai.”

Once the clamour over Kashi subsided, Mathura came to the fore. On a civil suit, which was filed by Hindu Sena president Vishnu Gupta and vice president Surjit Yadav on December 8, 2022, a civil court (senior division) in Mathura, presided over by judge Sonika Verma, issued orders on December 24 , 2022, that a survey by amin (revenue official) be conducted and report submitted to the court for its next hearing on January 20, 2023.

The survey report, the order specified, should include the site plan and map of the 13.37 acre area on which the Shahi Idgah mosque stood. The petitioners had demanded that control of this land be handed over to Hindus since the mosque stood on a land which was owned by the presiding deity , in this case, Lord Krishna, hence the mosque was an encroachment on this land.

According to the petitioners, the mosque was illegally built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after razing a temple which was built at the spot where Lord Krishna was born. The petitioners also claimed that the agreement which is in place in Mathura at the moment since 1968, allowing both Hindus and Muslims to offer prayers at their respective places of worship, was “ illegal”.

They stated that this is because the Krishna Janmabhoomi Sansthan, which entered into an agreement with the Shahi Idgah Masjid Intazamia Committee, was not the owner of this land, it was merely a trustee and had only powers to manage the temple affairs, not barter the temple land because it was not the legal owner.

“ The land in question where the mosque stands belongs to Lord Krishna since 1815 when it was bought by the king of Benaras from the British government which had auctioned it. We have the ownership papers to this effect which we have submitted to the court.

“The temple trust has only powers to manage the temple affairs, it is not the owner of this land so it has no power to enter into any agreement with anybody bartering our land. Hence the 1968 agreement where Muslims were given the right to offer namaz at the structure there is illegal,” says the Hindu Sena chief Vishnu Gupta, who is the main petitioner in this case.

Meanwhile, the mosque committee has also filed its objection, demanding the right to be heard. The court has agreed to hear their side and the matter will come up for hearing again on January 20, 2023. The survey will begin only after that.

It is surprising that the Centre has chosen to be a mute spectator over such cacophony especially because there is a law in the country today, called Places of Worship Act, 1991, which mandates that the nature of any religious place as on August 15, 1947, cannot be altered. The law enacted by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991, made the Ram Janmabhoomi temple an exception because a fierce movement was then underway demanding control of the entire land on which the temple stood in Ayodhya.

It was specifically to prevent any such movements arising in the future that the law was enacted. As long as this law is in place, it is not legally possible to alter the religious character of any place of worship in the country. It is thus intriguing that the Centre is choosing to look the other way when demands to get control over the Gyanvapi or Idgah mosque are being made by Hindutva organisations.

It is even more unfortunate that even as the Places of Worship Act is under challenge for its constitutional validity, the Central government has chosen to dilly dally it for over two years now. The Places of Worship Act was first challenged in June 2020 when a Lucknow based organisation called Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh, along with advocate Ashwani Upadhyaya, filed a petition in the Supreme Court , challenging the validity of this act.

Since then, the apex court has issued many notices to the centre, asking it to make its stand clear on this issue, but till date the centre has said nothing. At least on half a dozen occasions, the solicitor general, appearing on behalf of the government, said “ it needed time for a comprehensive” reply on the issue.

As recently as on January 10, 2023, when the matter came up for hearing the solicitor general sought more time saying the Centre is “consulting” on the issue and the “process” is on so some more time be granted. Now the Court has fixed the date for the end of February, on which the solicitor general said “we may file the affidavit before that.”

If only the BJP government at the Centre had been categorical about its own stand on this issue, the needless court wrangling over the Mandir-Masjid issues could have been avoided. But does the government want these issues to be avoided? Maybe not. Otherwise it would have only reiterated the Places of Worship Act, which the Supreme Court in its Ayodhya judgment of November 2019 had described as a “legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity which is one of the basic features of the Constitution.”

This is one piece of legislation which only needed to be reiterated by the government if it was clear about its motives. Since this is not the case and ominous voices have started arising from right wings should we brace ourselves for another round of “ek dhakka aur do” type of politics. The Centre’s deafening silence on the Places of Worship Act is ominous.