Rajat Sharma

Who is playing politics in the name of Navratri and Ramzan?

akb fullThe controversy over playing of Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers outside mosques during ‘Azaan’ prayers in Maharashtra and Karnataka seems to be escalating to other spheres too. The Jodhpur Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Ltd, the power distribution company in Congress-ruled Rajasthan, issued an order directing engineers of all ten districts to ensure round-the-clock power supply to Muslim-dominated localities during Ramzan, but it was hurriedly withdrawn on Tuesday after a political row erupted.

Similarly, Aam Aadmi Party-run Delhi Jal Board on Tuesday withdrew its order allowing Muslim employees to leave two hours before the end of their duty timings during Ramzan, from April 3 to May 2. In BJP-ruled South Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Mayor has called for imposing ban on sale of meat and chicken during Navratri and Ramnavami till April 10.

Let me go through these issues one by one. The April 1 order by the assistant managing director of Jodhpur Vidyut Vitaran Nam Ltd directing superintending engineers to ensure 24-hour power supply to Muslim-dominated areas during Ramzan reads: “The month of Ramzan is beginning from April 4. Do not go for shut down and ensure uninterrupted power supply in Muslim-dominated areas so that those observing Roza do not face any inconvenience”.

This order was issued probably at the behest of a Rajasthan minister of state Zahida Khan, who, in a letter to Energy Minister Bhanwar Singh Bhati had sought round-the-clock power supply to Muslim-dominated localities during Ramzan. BJP leader and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje pointed out that Hindus were also observing fast during Navratri, but the state government was indulging in appeasement politics.

Vasundhara Raje asked, “why is the state government concerned only about those observing Ramzan? Why not for the rest of the people? If this is not appeasement and vote politics, that what else is it? The state government should rise above religion and work for the welfare of all Rajasthanis, irrespective of religion, caste or community.”

Pramod Tak, the managing director of Jodhpur Vidyut Vitaran Nigam, said, such orders are issued during every festival, like Holi, Diwali. “Since Ramzan is falling during scorching heat unlike previous years, we issued this order on humanitarian grounds”, he said. After a row erupted on social media, the corporation withdrew its earlier order.

It is alright if any government takes steps to ensure that Muslims observing Ramzan fast do not face inconvenience, but by issuing an order for round-the-clock power supply to Muslim-dominated localities only, is a clear act of religious discrimination.

This has been the pattern over the years till now: round-the-clock power supply during Ramzan, full water supply during Bakrid festival, and holding of ‘iftar’ parties by ministers and leaders at cost to exchequer. If anybody questions this and demands why no such facilities are given during Hindu festivals, he or she will be dubbed as anti-Muslim. Such acts widen the divide between communities. People may begin to feel that there is discrimination on religious grounds. On one hand, Congress government is giving such orders, but, on the other hand, the party is opposing South Delhi Mayor’s call for closure of meat shops during Navratri festival.

A different sort of religious controversy is brewing in Maharashtra and neighbouring Karnataka. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, claiming himself to be the sole political heir of Balasaheb Thackeray, has given a call to his workers to play Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers outside mosques, when ‘azaan’ (call to prayer) is played.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday night, we showed visuals of Hanuman Chalisa being played on loudspeakers at loud decibels outside a mosque in Kalyan, near Mumbai. There was no Hanuman temple nearby, but local MNS workers had come with louspeakers to blare out hymns from Hanuman Chalisa, as the ‘azaan’ was being played from the mosque.

Similar incidents took place outside mosques in Mumbai and Thane. In Kurla, Mumbai, police foiled an attempt by MNS workers to play Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeaker and rounded up those activists. Shiv Sena leaders allege that BJP in Maharashtra is giving silent support to MNS on loudspeaker issue. On the other hand, Raj Thackeray is citing Supreme Court and High Court orders which bar playing of religious hymns on loudspeakers.

The Supreme Court, in its July 2005 order, had banned use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places, from 10 pm to 6 am, except in case of emergencies, citing serious effects of noise pollution on people living in residential areas. However, in October 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that loudspeakers can be permitted for use till midnight only on festive occasions for 15 days in a year. The apex court ruling said that state governments will not have the power to delegate relaxation on ban to other authorities for use of loudspeakers.

In August, 2016, Bombay High Court clearly said that use of loudspeakers by religious shrines cannot be termed as a fundamental right. It said no religion or sect can claim that the right to use a loudspeaker or a public address system is a fundamental right conferred under Article 25 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion. The high court said, no religious shrine can be allowed to use loudspeaker without obtaining permission.

In September, 2018, Karnataka High Court banned use of loudspeakers after 10 pm and directed that the guidelines prepared by Supreme Court specifying permissible sound levels must be followed. Similarly, Punjab and Haryana High Court, in July 2019, banned use of loudspeakers by religious shrines without prior permission. In May, 2020, Allahabad High Court ruled that ‘azaan’ can be recited by a ‘muezzin’ only from the minaret of a mosque in his own voice without using any public address system.

With the BMC municipal elections fast approaching, Raj Thackeray has made the playing of ‘azaan’ on loudspeaker an issue and has asked his workers to counter this by reciting Hanuman Chalisa on PA system. Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi asked his supporters to respond by sending ‘sharbat’ and water to MNS workers playing Hanuman Chalisa.

Abu Azmi is not sincere and Raj Thackeray’s intentions are not honest. Those reciting Hanuman Chalisa in Maharashtra are not ‘bhakts’ (devotees) of Lord Hanuman. Those offering ‘sharbat’ to MNS workers are not humanists. Political parties are playing this game for their own advantage. When Shiv Sena was an ally of BJP, it used to project itself as a bigger proponent of Hindutva. After allying with NCP and Congress, Shiv Sena is now projecting itself as more “secular than thou”.

The ‘azaan’ controversy has spread to neighbouring Karnataka where Hindu outfits have demanded ban on playing of ‘azaan’ from loudspeakers. Supporters of these outfits have also started playing ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ and ‘Bajrang Baan’ on loudspeakers. Outfits like Shri Ram Sene, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, and the chief of Kalikamba temple have sought government’s permission to play Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers.

Since Karnataka assembly polls are due in May next year, political parties have now become active. Former chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah said, nobody except the BJP has problems with loudspeakers playing from mosques. “We oppose such moves that are meant to divide society”, he said.

Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai responded by saying that the ban on loudspeakers by High Court and Supreme Court relates not only to mosques but to all religious places. “We will speak to all stakeholders and ensure that the court orders are implemented. All this cannot be done under pressure, but through persuasion. The court orders are not only for ‘azaan’ but for all religious activities. They (Congress leaders) are hypocrites. They raised the ‘hijaab’ issue, and then opposed when people opposed ‘hijaab’. Why did they violate court orders? Why were they silent then? Actually, all these controversies are occurring due to Congress’ vote bank politics”, Bommai said.

Bommai is right when he says that his government will speak to all sides and settle the issue amicably. But in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has adopted a different ‘avataar’. Former CM Kamal Nath, now the state Congress chief in Madhya Pradesh, has sent letters to all district party chiefs to organize ‘Ram Katha’ on April 10 to observe Ramnavami, and to hold recital of Hanuman Chalisa and Sunder Kand on April 16 to observe Hanuman Jayanti. Congress MLA Arif Masood opposed this move and said that the party should not “copy BJP”. “If the party is organizing these during Ramnavami and Hanuman Jayanti, similar events should be held during Ramzan too”, he added.

There are two lines of thought running concurrently in Congress presently. A section of Congress leaders feel that the party should also speak about Hindus and refrain from appeasement of minorities. Kamal Nath’s letter was sent as part of that narrative. Kamal Nath himself is an ardent devotee of Lord Hanuman. He built a huge Hanuman temple in his constituency.

Congress leaders, who follow the other line, believe that the party must not compromise its image of being a secular party and should try to win the support of Muslim community too. But Congress leaders, in their zeal for Muslim appeasement, go several steps ahead as I have mentioned in the beginning of this blog, on how an order was issued to supply 24-hour power to Muslim-dominated areas of Jodhpur.

A Muslim leader of Minister of State rank in Rajasthan cannot exert such influence in getting such an order issued. Obviously, a senior Congress leader must have intervened and the MD of the discom company issued the order. Jodhpur happens to be Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s constituency.

BJP MP from Jodhpur Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is Union Jal Shakti Minister, lashed out at Gehlot in his tweet on Tuesday. Shekhawat said: “This order issued at the behest of Gehlot government has increased my hatred towards Congress line of thinking. The order to refrain from power cut in Jodhpur is a Tughlaqi firman given as part of votebank politics. Such acts create more disharmony. Gehlot Ji, you have power in your hands, but in the name of harmony, you cannot select one and neglect the other. You played your game in Karauli. I appeal to you with folded hands to keep my Jodhpur free from communal conspiracy. Gehlot Ji, you could have at least given some thought to Navratri too.”

This year, both Ramzan and Navratri took place at the same time. Both the festivals are sacred to both communities, and these festivals spread the message of communal harmony. But whatever that is happening in the name of Navratri and Ramzan is totally different.

If a government wants to give leave to its employees belonging to a particular religion during a festival, how can it differentiate in the name of religion? If people are unhappy over playing of ‘azaan’ on loudspeakers from mosques, how can playing of Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers be a solution?

Arm-twisting or use of force cannot resolve problems. You can bring harmony only through dialogue. Enforcing closure of all meat shops during a festival cannot be deemed as a right step. I have heard several Hindu shopkeepers saying that they too are devotees of Devi Mata, and observe Navratri, but by enforcing closure of shops, they would also suffer.

It is a bitter truth that too much politics is going on in the name of Navratri and Ramzan. Those indulging in politics are on both sides. And till the time both sides agree, the atmosphere cannot be changed for the better.

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