Vote bank politics turns symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity into a tinderbox

Datta Peetha located in Bababudangiri Hills in Chikkamagalur district has been described as the BJP's Ayodhya in Karnataka. The shrine has been a pilgrimage spot for both Hindus and Muslims. The BJP, however, is demanding that the site be declared a Hindu temple. A single bench of the High Court passed an order setting aside the Congress government order which provided for the appointment of a mujawar for the shrine.

Even after the intervention of the courts, the Karnataka Datta Peetha row in Chikkamagalur district as well as the Malali mosque row in Dakshina Kannada remain as communal fault lines in the state. The local residents and political activists agree that the situation is volatile and anything could happen over these issues.

Datta Peetha located in Bababudangiri Hills in Chikkamagalur district has been described as the BJP's Ayodhya in Karnataka. The shrine has been a pilgrimage spot for both Hindus and Muslims.

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The BJP, however, is demanding that the site be declared a Hindu temple.

A single bench of the High Court passed an order setting aside the Congress government order which provided for the appointment of a mujawar for the shrine. However, this order was challenged in court by Syed Ghouse Mohiyuddin Shakhadri.

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The government has informed the court that Datta Peetha will be managed by a panel of both Hindus and Muslims. It was also submitted that the decision will be subject to the court's order. The next hearing is on September 5.

Shakhadri told IANS that Hindu organisations are demanding the appointment of an 'archak' to the shrine.

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"Oral explanations won't suffice and they do not hold ground. They have to produce proof of presence of the priest before 1975. In Sanatan dharma, an archak will be appointed to conduct aarti, pooja of a deity. Not for graves. There are four graves inside and outside there is a graveyard. The whole controversy is about politics, it is not about religion," Shakhadri says.

He states that the Places of Worship Act of 1991 says the rituals prior to 1947 should be followed as it is in temples. There is no document to prove that there was an archak here before 1947.

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Shadab Ali Khan, the Congress counsellor for Chikkamagaluru Corporation, stated that Hindus and Muslims jointly offered prayers and worshipped at the Bababudangiri shrine. "In 1993-94, the issue was created by BJP National General Secretary C T Ravi."

"The controversy could have ended 20 years ago. It has been kept alive only for vote bank politics. We want to see both Hindus and Muslims pray together like they did earlier," he stated.

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Before 1964, the shrine was revered by both Hindus and Muslims. It symbolised Sufi culture and the unity of Hindu and Islamic cultures. The shrine was known as Shri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah. What was a pilgrimage spot for the two faiths has become a disputed site between Hindus and Muslims.

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Hindus consider the hill to be the final resting place of Dattatreya, Muslims believe the dargah is one of the earliest centres of Sufism in south India. They believe that Sufi saint Dada Hayat Mirkalandar lived there for years.

The Karnataka High Court in September cancelled the order appointing a Muslim maulvi as a priest in Datta Gurupeetha. The ruling BJP called it a victory for Hindus. The court had set aside the appointment of Muslim Maulvi Syed Ghouse Mohiyuddin Shakhadri to perform poojas in Datta Peetha.

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The appointment was made by the Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah, following the report by the high level committee headed by retired high court Justice H N Nagmohan Das.

The BJP government's recent order to form an administrative committee to govern and administer the shrine has also run into a controversy.

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The committee would have four members from both Hindu and Muslim communities. It is alleged that this is a ploy by the ruling party to take away the rights of Shakadri of the shrine belonging to the minority community.

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With the BJP, VHP, RSS many organisations involved in the movement over the years are challenging the syncretic culture of the shrine. A recent order by the government also allows Datta Jayanthi, Datta Mala as well as the annual Sufi Urus.

Irrespective of the controversy, the local coffee planters before the harvest visit the shrine and worship there. Fakir Bababudan, a Sufi saint of the 17th century from Yemen who settled at the shrine, is credited with planting the first coffee seeds in the Indian sub-continent.

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With a temple structure being found on April 21 during the renovation of the Malali mosque, a controversy surfaced in the communally sensitive Dakshina Kannada district which has made national news for revenge killings. Following the controversy, the court had ordered the mosque management to stop the work.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had moved the court demanding the appointment of a court commissioner to survey the Jumma Masjid in Malali town near Mangaluru. Challenging the demand of the VHP, the management of the Assayed Abdullahil Madani Mosque has filed a petition.

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Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare Shobha Karandlaje has stated that historical blunders must be rectified in the country. She also underlined that the Union Home Ministry is keenly observing the developments in connection with the Malali mosque.

 

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