Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Bengaluru’s Idgah Maidan will not be held, after an order of “status quo” by the Supreme Court today on a petition by the Karnataka Waqf Board. This ended a deadlock just in time — the Hindu festival is tomorrow and day after — as the state government was insisting on giving permissions to set up pandals.
The High Court had earlier said the government could give permissions, but the waqf board went to the Supreme Court, arguing no other religious festivals have been held there “for 200 years”. The court’s three-judge bench thus ordered “status quo as of today” at the 2.5-acre ground.
A larger question is at the nub of the matter: Who owns the ground, the state government or the waqf board? That remains for the High Court to decide.
Lawyer cites Babri
During the hearing, the state’s lawyer asked for “a government-managed temple” to be allowed for two days, saying “no permanent structure will be built”.
At this, the board’s lawyer shot back, “The then CM of UP also gave an assurance, in the Babri Masjid case. You know what happened there,” referring to the 1992 demolition of the mosque, in place of which a Ram Temple is now coming up after a Supreme Court judgment.
Heavy police deployment at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru today.
“Don’t give an impression to religious minorities that their rights can be trampled upon,” the lawyer, Dushyant Dave, also told the court.
“No religious event from any other community has been held in this property… It has been declared as Waqf Property as per the law. Suddenly in 2022, they say that it’s disputed land, and they want to hold Ganesh Chaturthi festival here,” the board said.
“Elections next year”
The board also mentioned the “elections due next year” — hinting at political motives behind the government’s move. Assembly elections are scheduled in 2023.
When the court asked the state lawyer, Mukul Rohatgi, if there were previous instances of such events at the Maidan, he said, “That cannot be the basis for opposing an event now.”
“In Delhi, Dussehra effigies are burned everywhere. Will people say ‘don’t do this Hindu festival’? We have to be a little broadminded. In Gujarat, streets and lanes are blocked for festivals. What is going to happen if Ganesh Chaturthi is allowed for two days?” he said.
But Dushyant Dave countered, “I wonder if there’s any temple in this country where minority community will be allowed to enter for prayers.”
Kapil Sibal, also the board’s lawyer, referred to the “suo motu FIR” of August 9 on a complaint that says “a dispute between Muslim and Hindu community (and) the said land belongs to Revenue Department”. Technically, this FIR was filed against a Hindu right-wing activist for “threatening to demolish a prayer wall at the Idgah Maidan”, but Mr Sibal said it’s “very disturbing”.
“Your lordships should stop this. What’s happening here?” he further said.
Karnataka has seen some communal violence in recent months, which has even led to demands that BJP should remove Basavaraj Bommai as Chief Minister.
When judges couldn’t agree
Earlier in the day, the matter came up before a smaller bench of two judges, but they could not agree with each other, so Chief Justice CJI UU Lalit listed the case before a three-judge bench — Justices Indira Banerjee, AS Oka and MM Sundresh.
The board’s plea was an appeal against an August 26 order by the Karnataka High Court, which allowed the government to take a decision on the ground’s use.