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In Hyderabad, a signature campaign sets off familiar temple-mosque narrative

After a Congress leader recently started a signature campaign seeking the reopening of the mosque inside Charminar for namaz, the BJP jumped in, calling it a ploy to remove the nearby Bhagyalakshmi temple

On May 31, Congress leader Rashed Khan put up a board at the nearby Mecca Masjid, asking people to sign if they wanted the mosque inside Charminar to be reopened for namaz. (Photo: Facebook/Rashed Khan)

Hyderabad’s 16th Century monument Charminar and the adjoining Bhagyalakshmi temple are at the centre of a new controversy after a Congress leader, Rashed Khan, started a signature campaign seeking the reopening of the mosque inside Charminar for namaz.

While all political parties, including the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) of which Khan is Secretary, have reacted angrily to the suggestion, the BJP, the main Opposition party in the state, has gone one step further, with its state unit chief saying Khan’s signature campaign is an attempt to remove the Bhagyalakshmi temple.

On May 31, Khan put up a board at the nearby Mecca Masjid, asking people to sign if they wanted the mosque inside Charminar to be reopened for namaz. The signature campaign ended on May 31 and Khan said he would submit the signatures to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, and the Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

The mosque is on the top floor of the monument that was constructed in 1591, and ASI officials said that when they took over the protection and maintenance of the Charminar in 1951, no prayers were held there. In later years, the mosque was closed to the public to protect the monument and avoid inconvenience to tourists.

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“It is our right to pray wherever there is a mosque. Why was it closed? If prayers can be held at Bhagyalakshmi temple, why cannot we pray at the mosque beside it? Let the prayers continue in the temple, there is no objection to that. But this mosque must be reopened, ’’ Khan said.

Reacting to Khan’s campaign, BJP Telangana chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar said, “Are we asking for Charminar to be moved from near the temple? This demand to reopen the mosque is to create problems for the temple and force it to be removed from there. Prayers are held every day at the temple for many years, how come they have suddenly remembered they want to perform namaz at Charminar?’’

The Bhagyalakshmi temple, dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, abuts the southeast minar of Charminar. Made of bamboo poles and tarpaulins, it has a tin roof, and the southeast minar forms its back wall. There is no definitive version on how and when it came up, but it has been there since at least the 1960s. The BJP, however, claims that the temple predates Charminar.

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In recent years, BJP leaders have been visiting the temple before undertaking any work, whether it is the filing of nomination papers or setting off on a padayatra. Even Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited the temple last month. Shah had visited the temple during the 2020 civic polls too. Among the visitors to the temple that poll season was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who, while campaigning in Hyderabad, made a pitch for renaming the city as Bhagyanagar after Goddess Bhagyalakshmi. “Some people were asking me if Hyderabad can be renamed as Bhagyanagar. I said, why not?” he had said.

With the temple already a focal point for the BJP’s politics in the state, the Congress believes Khan’s campaign has only served to reignite tensions.

Dismissing Khan and his contention, Congress leader V Hanumanth Rao said, “Elections are approaching and many people try to create issues. I was trying to find out from our minority cell who this Rashed Khan is. All this is just to create communal disturbance and create a sensation. The BJP is already using it to create more tensions.’’

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“We do not support his statements and demands on the Charminar mosque issue. Those are not the Congress’s views,” he added.

TPCC chairperson Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka said, “The BJP is trying to use these issues to create communal tensions just like they did in Gujarat which led to bloodshed. Some random person says something and the BJP twists it into a communal issue.’’

First published on: 02-06-2022 at 08:42:40 pm
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