Ticking time bomb

The recent violence in Hyderabad’s old city was neither spontaneous nor sudden. Parties and politicians keen to reap electoral and other benefits from pursuing communal politics saw opportunity in a controversy over a temple abutting one of the minarets of the Charminar and quickly swung in to orchestrate violence.

The recent erection of scaffolding and shrouding of the Bhagyalakshmi temple with tarpaulin – temple authorities claim they were renovating it ahead of Diwali -- seems to have sparked fears among Muslims that the temple was becoming a more permanent structure. These anxieties were not without basis. But when stoked by politicians of parties like the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), they exploded in violent protests. The protests came in handy for the MIM to mobilise support among Muslims, helping it reaffirm its position as the most powerful force in the old city. It has used the temple issue as an excuse to snap ties with the Congress in Andhra and the UPA at the Centre, paving the way for a potential alliance with the YSR Congress.

As repugnant as the MIM’s opportunism is the provocative politics of organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and Hindu Vahini, besides the Bharatiya Janata Party. No temple abutted the Charminar before the 1970s. Yet one stands there today. The role of the sangh parivar in this transformation is significant. Last week, it added fuel to the fire by planning a maha aarti at the Charminar. However, a Congress hand in churning the communal cauldron is visible too. It was after all, the state’s Congress-led government that permitted the covering of the shed over the Bhagyalaxmi idol with tarpaulin despite a high court order directing the maintenance of the status quo.

The Bhagyalakshmi temple is not an ancient structure as claimed by the Hindu rightwing. It is a recent construction. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act forbids constructions within 300 metres of protected monuments, raising questions over the temple’s legality. It is important that authorities deal with the temple’s illegality now. If not nipped in the bud, it has the potential to become a major site of confrontation. The Archeological Survey of India has been raising objections to the construction activity near the Charminar but being a toothless organisation has been unable to do much. Media reports indicate that besides the Bhagyalakshmi temple, other new temples are being constructed under cover of tarpaulin. These need to be investigated and acted upon now.

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