Mathura: Muslim Dosa Cart-Owner Changes Name

Mathura: On a site of a religious place in Mathura region, where a temple and mosque stand side-by-side, the handful of Muslim restaurants that remain are mostly empty or shuttered. Last year the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had imposed a ban on meat. The ban was imposed on religious grounds. This ban has has decimated their trade.

Now Yogi Adityanath, up for re-election in key state polls next month, has turned his attention to the temple itself, suggesting he will champion the Hindu cause in a long-running dispute with Muslims over who owns the site.

This issue has become a central part of the ruling party’s campaign. 

Hindus and Muslims have fought for decades over who should control the site, echoing other disputes in India that have, on occasions, flared into deadly riots between the two communities.

Mention of the Mathura dispute during campaign rallies and on social media has the city’s Muslims worried, according to interviews with more than 20 residents.

“An old case which has been settled … is being revived because we have a new, triumphalist Hinduism,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of several books on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“There is a greater emphasis on playing the temple card.”

Opinion polls suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to which Yogi Adityanath belongs, will win the vote in Uttar Pradesh, despite broad discontent over the economy and the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The Chief Minister, seen by some analysts as a potential successor to PM Modi, has cast the ballot as “80% versus 20%”, figures he did not fully explain. The percentages closely match the Hindu and Muslim share of the population across the state.

Yogi Adityanath’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the situation in Mathura.

‘Nothing to fear’

The BJP swept to power in Uttar Pradesh on a Hindu-first agenda in 2017 and did not field a single Muslim candidate.

That victory reflected the party’s dominance nationally since PM Modi came to power in 2014 after appealing to the Hindu majority.

The main opposition Congress party complains that by putting Hindus first, he and the BJP discriminate against minorities and risk stoking violence. PM Modi has defended his record and says his economic and social policies benefit all Indians.

Jamal Siddiqui, head of the BJP’s minority commission, said the party was working to increase the number of minority candidates in Uttar Pradesh and the four other states going to the polls next month.

“I hope the minority community will participate both in elections and in government,” he told Reuters. “The Modi government has protected religious sites for all religions. Now, instead of being afraid of saffron, Muslims are coming closer.”

Suspicion of the BJP among Muslims in Mathura had been caused by misleading claims from opposition parties, Mr Siddiqui added.

‘No compromise’

Among the holiest cities in Hinduism, Mathura is believed to be the birthplace of Krishna.

A temple standing on the reputed site of his birth was razed and replaced by a mosque, known as the Shahi Eidgah, in the 17th century during the Mughal empire. A temple complex built in the 1950s now backs onto the mosque.

An agreement was brokered in 1968 to settle the use of the land, and the two structures stood like “two sisters” until legal action to demolish the mosque began in 2020, said Z Hassan, president of the trust that runs the Eidgah.

“I have been here for 55 years. I have not felt tension between Hindus and Muslims,” he said. “Only in the last few years, this idea has come that there are two communities.”

The case, brought to a local court by several priests, says the 1968 agreement was fraudulent.

“This land is very important to us,” said Vishnu Jain, the lawyer acting for the petitioners. “I don’t believe in any kind of dialogue. There is only one compromise which can happen – that they will be out of this property.”

Both sides expect the case to last for years.

The local dispute has been taken up by Yogi Adityanath and several other BJP leaders during campaigning.

He told a rally last month that work on constructing a temple in Mathura, along the lines of a similar development in Ayodhya, was “in progress”, without giving more detail.

Ayodhya was the scene of communal violence in 1992 and 1993 in which hundreds died after a mob demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid mosque that many Hindus claimed was the birthplace of Lord Rama.

A court ruling allowing the construction of a temple on the site of the Babri Masjid was a major campaign issue in the 2019 general election when the BJP increased its majority.

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