Mumbai makes light of BJP’s ‘grave’ issues
People have not taken kindly to the BJP trying to make political capital out of Yakub Memon's grave and see it as another cheap gimmick that exposes the depth to which BJP has plunged in recent years
Nashik is a part of the Ramayana circuit in Maharashtra and is promoted as such by the department of tourism; that is because this is the city where Lord Ram is said to have halted after being banished from Ayodhya.
It is where Ravana’s sister Surpanakha spotted Lord Ram and was infatuated enough to try and seduce him. When she got too amorous, according to the epic, Laxman cut off her nose in the jungles next to Nashik and that is how the city got its name—‘Nasika’, meaning nose in Sanskrit.
It is a city full of temples but it also has thriving churches and mosques. During the holy month of Ramzan this year, churches hosted iftar for Muslims. If people thought this was just two minority communities bonding together in view of Raj Thackeray’s continued attempts to vitiate the atmosphere—at the behest of the BJP, one might add—by threatening to play the Hanuman Chalisa during azaans, Lord Ganesha’s devotees in Nashik put their thumbs down at the politicisation of the festival.
Anant Chaturdashi this year fell on a Friday—the day when it is mandatory for Muslim men to offer the afternoon prayers in congregation. The immersion procession of Ganapati began with the usual pomp and show in the morning but as one particular procession slowly wound its way through the city, the call for azaan (the Muslim call to prayers) started as the procession passed through a Muslim locality.
As soon as the youngsters, mostly Hindu, beating the dhol-tashas (drums) heard the azaan blaring from the mosque, they immediately stopped the drum-beating—voluntarily—and stood in silence until the azaan was over.
They resumed the dhol-tashas accompanied by singing and dancing only after all the namaazis had gone inside and then the procession moved ahead on its pre-determined route for immersion. Neither community had any issue with the other. While the gesture did not go unnoticed, communal harmony is not new to Maharashtra, where both Hindus and Muslims—and indeed other communities too—celebrate the Ganapati festival together.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till this year had shown little interest in the Ganapati festival in the state. It was content to play the ‘Ram’ card, leaving the Shiv Sena to patronise Ganapati. But after the BJP engineered a split in the Shiv Sena and made a large number of MLAs to break ranks and join hands with it to topple the Shiv Sena-led MVA government, no effort was spared this year to politicise the Ganapati festival.
Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis spent the entire festival hopping from one mandal to another to make their presence felt at the celebrations. Not that Aaditya Thackeray of the Shiv Sena was far behind but then the Shiv Sena had been traditionally sponsoring these celebrations. Even the Union home minister Amit Shah was also roped in to participate in the festivities and for photo-ops.
However, as this gesturing did not apparently cut much ice, the BJP appears to have activated Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) again to stir the pot. The MNS had earlier threatened to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside mosques to protest against azaan on loudspeakers. The campaign did not receive much traction.
This week, however, the MNS petitioned the police commissioner in Nashik and reminded him that “We now have a Hindu government in Maharashtra”. The reminder was to reiterate its earlier demand that police must stop the mosques from using loudspeakers.
The police in Nashik, and elsewhere in the state, had laid down strict guidelines. While the use of loudspeakers at mosques was restricted, the Hindu temples too were barred from amplifying aartis. Even the Trimbakeshwar temple, which houses a Jyotirlinga, had no problem with this. Police had also prohibited the recital of Hanuman Chalisa 15 minutes before and after the azaan. The rules also said that at other times, a distance of 100 meters will have to be maintained from the mosques.
People are waiting to see how the police reacts to the latest arm-twisting act by the MNS. But as one senior officer wryly told this writer, “We are as good or as bad as the government in power. We have to implement the policies of the government in residence and I fear things might go out of hand if the top leaders in government do not take stern measures to stop such nonsense.”
The alleged beautification of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon’s grave is also being milked by the BJP to score brownie points with voters before the impending Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election. While it had hoped the issue would polarise voters on communal lines and embarrass the ousted MVA government and Uddhav Thackeray, it doesn’t seem to have quite succeeded on either count.
The serial Mumbai blasts of March 1993 were said to be in retaliation to the riots that killed hundreds of people following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 06 December 1992. Yakub Memon was hanged for his complicity in the conspiracy. All other accused, including Yakub’s parents, brothers and relatives, were acquitted for lack of evidence or for being unwitting accomplices. But Yakub Memon was deemed to be one of the masterminds and was the only one among those convicted in that case who was awarded the death sentence. Others were awarded varying punishments.
Yakub Memon was hanged at Nagpur central jail and his body was flown to Mumbai. His funeral procession was conducted under tight security.
Both Shiv Sena and NCP—blamed by the BJP for allegedly allowing the beautification of the grave—responded in kind by asking why the then chief minister, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, in 2015 decided to fly the body to Mumbai. Why wasn’t the body buried in the Nagpur central jail as the UPA government had done with Ajmal Kasab at Arthur Road jail in Mumbai and with Afzal Guru at Tihar jail in New Delhi? Those decisions had prevented the kind of glorification of a terrorist that the BJP is now complaining about, they said.
It is another matter that the government had little or nothing to do with the alleged beautification of the grave. While Yakub’s family—who had paid for the grave—gave it a facelift, others from the community who couldn’t afford to buy a plot in the graveyard appeared to have instigated the BJP to raise the issue.
Judging by public reaction, people have not taken kindly to the political party trying to make political capital out of a grave. The controversy is being seen as another cheap gimmick, and exposes the depth to which the BJP has plunged in recent years.