“Curfew to lagna hi hai. Ek myan me do talwar nahi rah sakti,” says Jayant Pawar, standing precariously on a two-wheeler as he focuses on a wrestling match, played under the hot son on a makeshift arena about 100 metres from the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula mosque.
Bhoj Keshari Dangal, the wrestling tournament, is held every year on the eve of Basant Panchami and gets a lot of attention as residents throng the venue to cheer the players and occasionally raise religious slogans.
Jayant, in his 20s, is certain about how events will unfold this Basant Panchami, which falls on Friday. “There will be trouble leading to imposition of curfew,” he says with the authority of a veteran.
Dinesh Goyal, a shopkeeper who complains about a drastic fall in arrival of customers ahead of the festival, says, “It’s a question of just one hour after noon, when things take a turn for the worse.” He recalls how the police used force in 2006 and 2013 after being manhandled by devotees who were asked to clear the premises of the shrine. “The administration has sealed off exit routes with huge tin sheets,” he adds, but is certain that disturbance will break out.
While the administration is not disclosing its strategy to deal with the situation, after reiterating that it will ensure both puja and namaz on Friday, Hindu organisations are not relenting either. “There should be no namaz on the roof of the red structure, let them offer prayers anywhere else,” Dharma Jagaran Manch convener Gopal Sharma tells The Indian Express, referring to speculation that the administration would take a handful of Muslims to the rooftop to offer namaz and allow puja the whole day in the courtyard.
Bhoj Utsav Samiti chief Ashok Jain says, “We won’t vacate the premises between 1 pm and 3 pm, if we enter. The administration can hold namaz in the Kamal Maula mosque as they did in 2013, but Saraswati Puja has to go on uninterrupted.” He said the administration has neither made its stand clear nor offered any solution to the standoff.
Minority community leaders were not ready to speak, but quietly expressed confidence in the measures taken by the administration. Bhopal-based member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Arif Masood, however, said that if the administration decides to shift the namaz elsewhere or restrict the number of namazis to a handful, it would amount to contempt of court.
He submitted a memorandum to the Dhar collector and superintendent of police saying the ASI rule is clear about namaz between 1 pm and 3 pm. He has also moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court alleging that the administration had violated the ASI ruling in the past.