Charminar shrine takes centre stage in BJP Hyd campaign

BJP centres Hyderabad poll campaign around small disputed shrine at Charminar

The temple dedicated to Goddess Bhagyalakshmi stands across the road from the Mecca Masjid in the communally sensitive old city

Home Minister Amit Shah being presented with a memento during his visit to Bhagyalakshmi Ammavari Temple, in Hyderabad. Credit: PTI Photo

A small, disputed shrine contiguous with one of the four iconic minarets of the Charminar has become the cornerstone of the BJP's Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election campaign.

On Sunday, the last day of canvassing for Tuesday's polls, Home Minister Amit Shah's election tour in the city began with an aarti-pooja at the Bhagyalakshmi temple.

The party's GHMC electioneering began from here ten days ago, with Telangana BJP Chief Bandi Sanjay's visit. Bandi had invited Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao to take a truth pledge there over the allegation of a letter sent in his name to the election authorities to stop the Rs 10,000 flood relief distribution in the city, as claimed by the TRS leaders.

Sanjay, who alleges a nefarious connection between the TRS and the AIMIM, even asked KCR to prove his Hindu credentials by visiting the temple.

The temple, dedicated to Goddess Bhagyalakshmi (the one bestowing prosperity), stands across the road from the Mecca Masjid in the communally sensitive old city.

The police, a perennial presence here, are deployed in extra numbers, with eyes peeled on Fridays.

The BJP's unprecedented focus on the temple now is seen by analysts as the party's attempt to challenge the AIMIM in its bastion, while furthering a communal divide across the city by appealing to the Hindu voters.

The Archaeological Survey India, which supervises the Charminar, maintains that the temple is an intrusion on the monument's premises. While there is no documented evidence to show that the shrine is older than six decades, BJP leaders claim it is at least 200 years old. Some Hindu groups say the temple site predates Charminar which was built in 1591.

The AIMIM, led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, has made its opposition to the Hindu shrine and its expansion public several times in the past.

In November 2012, when the temple management restored the roof as per the Andhra Pradesh High Court orders, the party legislators had gathered in protest. The MLAs' arrest and sporadic violent acts had then kept the old city tense for a few days.

Last November, during the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case verdict in the Supreme Court, Owaisi, reacting to a question, wondered if the “ASI under the BJP government can take action” on the disputed Bhagyalakshmi temple site.

While ordering against further expansion of the temple, the HC had earlier reportedly asked for status-quo maintenance at the site. Devotee darshans and daily rituals go on.

 This November, the temple is in the political spotlight.

The Telangana BJP blames the ruling TRS for making the Bhagyalakshmi temple an election issue.

“TRS leaders, including KT Rama Rao, questioned why Bandi went to the old city temple when there are several famous shrines in the city. Do Hindus need KTR or CM KCR or the AIMIM's permission to visit a temple?” questions Krishna Saagar Rao, Telangana BJP's chief spokesperson.

“The TRS which has failed in city's administration is now selling fear to the voters, making baseless charges of the BJP attempting communal disturbances,” Rao told DH.

On Sunday, Home Minister Amit Shah said he went to the temple “to pay respects to the goddess as per my faith, nothing else.”