Karnataka Waqf Board’s opposition to the state government allowing Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Bengaluru’s Idgah Maidan reached the Supreme Court today, where a three-judge bench is now hearing it. The court is expected to end the deadlock by the evening, as the festival begins tomorrow.
“Don’t give an impression to religious minorities that their rights can be trampled upon like this,” the board’s lawyer, Dushyant Dave, told the bench, arguing that the ground should not be used for any such festival. “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.
But the state’s lawyer asked for “a government-managed temple” to be allowed for two days, and “no permanent structure will be built”.
At this, the board’s lawyer remarked, “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 as per the Supreme Court’s judgment.
Before this, when the court asked if there were previous instances of such events at the Maidan, government lawyer Mukul Rohatgi said, “That cannot be the basis for opposing an event now… For the past 200 years, the land was used as playground for children. All revenue entries are in the name of the state.”
“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 contended.
But the board’s lawyer Dave countered, “I wonder if there’s any temple in this country where minority community will be allowed to enter for prayers.”
He argued, “Waqf Act 1995 overrides all other laws. It says any waqf property occupied by government agencies should be handed over to the Waqf Board. It’s outside the state government’ jurisdiction to touch this property.”
One of the board’s points is that the Hindu festival in a space owned by the Muslim organisation is being held “with elections due next year”, hinting at political motives. Elections to the city municipal corporation — Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or BBMP — are scheduled in 2023.
Kapil Sibal, also the board’s lawyer, referred to a “suo motu FIR” registered on August 9 on a complaint that said “there is a dispute between Muslim and Hindu community (and) the said land belongs to Revenue Department”. He said it’s “very disturbing” that “some references to Babri Masjid” were made in the complaint. “Your lordships should stop this. What’s happening here?” he further said.
The state’s BJP government — which granted permission for the festival pandals — had initially said the matter could be heard the day after tomorrow. But the court did not agree.
Karnataka has seen some communal violence in recent months, which has even led to demands that BJP should remove Basavaraj Bommai as Chief Minister.
Earlier in the day, before a two-judge bench, the board said its permission is mandatory for any event at Idgah Maidan. “The land title is in the board’s name since 1881,” the lawyer stressed. When the bench asked how Independence Day and other celebrations had been held on the ground earlier, he replied, “By consent. Even children are allowed to play… But now the order is for a religious function.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the state government. “. This is an open land with no boundaries… Kindly permit the government to use the land for tomorrow and the day after. The state will take care of any threat perception.”
The waqf board said the matter should be decided on urgently as “it will become infructuous if not heard today”.
The two-judge bench — Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia — then referred the issue to the Chief Justice, citing a difference of opinion. CJI UU Lalit listed it before a three-judge bench — Justices Indira Banerjee, AS Oka and MM Sundresh.
The board’s plea is actually 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.
News reports said certain Hindu organisations had sought government’s permission for Ganesh Chaturthi pandals on Wednesday and Thursday.