The Supreme Court of India ordered status quo as of today in the case concerning the use of Idgah Maidan at Bengaluru for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. On 30 August, the court observed that the land had not been used for any other purpose for the past 200 years.
The controversy had blown up after the Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI), an Islamist political organisation, announced that it would not allow Ganesh festival rituals on the Idgah ground.
How the Government of Karnataka lost the case in Supreme Court
During the hearing, the lawyer for the Karnataka government asked for "a government-managed temple" to be allowed for two days, saying "no permanent structure will be built". But the board's lawyer retorted, "The then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh 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 verdict.
"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.
The waqf board mentioned the "elections due next year", hinting at political motives behind the government's move. Assembly elections are scheduled for 2023.
When the court asked the state lawyer, Mukul Rohatgi, whether there were previous instances of such events at the Maidan, he said, "That cannot be the basis for opposing an event now." He argued, "In Delhi, Dussehra effigies are burned everywhere. Will people say 'don't do this Hindu festival'? We have to be a little broad-minded. In Gujarat, streets and lanes are blocked for festivals. What is going to happen if Ganesh Chaturthi is allowed for two days?"
But Dushyant Dave gave a counterargument, "I wonder if there's any temple in this country where minority community will be allowed to enter for prayers."
Kapil Sibal, another lawyer standing for the waqf board, 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 Eidgah Maidan", but Mr Sibal said it's "very disturbing". "Your lordships should stop this. What's happening here?" he said.
Chief Justice of India UU Lalit constituted a three-judge bench in the Supreme Court to hear the plea by the Karnataka Waqf Board, which challenged the high court's order which allowed the use of Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.
The three-judge bench comprised Justices Indira Banerjee, Abhay S Oka, and MM Sundresh.
The order came after a two-judge bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia referred the issue to the CJI, citing a difference of opinion. "Heard the parties at some length. Neither the hearing could conclude nor any consensus could be reached between the bench. Let the matter be listed before the CJI, " the two-judge bench said.
A division bench of the Karnataka High Court had on 26 August permitted the state government to consider and pass appropriate orders on the applications received by the Deputy Commissioner of Bengaluru (Urban) seeking the use of Idgah Maidan at Chamarajpet.
The high court had earlier said the government could give permission, 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.
But all is not lost
A larger question remains unanswered: Who owns the ground, the state government or the waqf board? That remains for the high court to decide.
"The issues raised in the special leave petition (SLP) may be agitated by both parties before the high court. In the meanwhile, the status quo as of today will be maintained by both sides. (The) SLP is disposed of," the Supreme Court bench said.
BREAKING: "Ganesh Chaturthi will be held at the Eidgah ground in Hubbali-Dharwad. In its late-night order, Karnataka High Court dismisses plea to deny permission for festival on land claimed by Waqf Board," tweeted senior journalist Abhijit Majumder.
Featured image credit: PGurus