The decision by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to shelve the Uttar Pradesh Religious Places Regulation Bill 2000 should come as a relief to Muslims in particular and minorities in general. It is also likely to go a long way in ensuring communal harmony in the most communally surcharged state.
Despite its claim that all religious places come under the ambit of the bill, the motives behind the bill under a BJP government were suspect. Given the general tendency of selective enforcement of law in India, more so in the Northern states, the new bill was all likely to be (mis)used in stalling the construction of churches and mosques. Gurdwaras of Sikh community would also have been targeted at the slightest hint of trouble in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh. This was apparent from the background provided by the Ram Prakash Gupta government which had minced no words in accusing the madrassas and mosques of being ‘a den of ISI activity’. The raids on Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow some years ago, the snoopy ransacking of late Maulana Ali Miyan’ ancestral home in Takiya Kalan in Rae Bareli last year, the trouble instigated in Shibli Degree College in Azamgarh, the massive assault launched by the Delhi police on the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi etc. reinforce such apprehensions in the minds of Muslims. Special powers in the hands of the district magistrates in Uttar Pradesh would have only aggravated the situation.
Religious institutions are not beyond the law of the land. The attack on the Islam’s holiest shrine Masjid Al Haram in Makkah in 1979 and the siege of Hazrat Bal Dargah in Srinagar are instances of governments enforcing the law of the land wherever the public order faced any threat from such places. But the motivation behind the UP bill was to humiliate an entire minority by pointedly targeting its religious places. Such a law in absence of any concrete evidence of misuse or anti-national activity constituted a grotesque affront to the communal relations and societal peace and could have only befitted a police state.
It is time the BJP and Sangh parivar discarded the Muslimphobia and brought forward a constructive agenda for the popular weal. Their obsession with Muslims and Islam is indicative of their ideological bankruptcy and total lack of any socio-economic agenda. Rewriting (read distortion) of history, demolition of mosques, introduction of uniform civil code, etc. do not speak of any forward-looking government. Perhaps more people could have benefited if the BJP government could have seriously attempted cleansing of the river Ganga and Yamuna. The cultural connotations of these projects notwithstanding, such a step would have been in the interest of all Indians whose livelihood is linked with cleaner and purer rivers. Regretfully, swadeshi agenda too has been altogether discarded and the nation is plunging headlong into the total relaxation of tariffs on imports of items of common use, and more shamefully for the agricultural products. This will be disastrous for the national economy and endanger the nation’s food security.
But far from being pro-active on constructive measures such as cleaning of Ganga and Swadeshi, the BJP government seems to be reviving the bogey of Muslims, “Islamic fundamentalism” and rewriting of history. Let it be understood that history cannot be changed by anyone. It remains as it is. History’s excesses are meant for learning a lesson. Only the present can be changed. Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s courageous Lahore journey was to accept the realities of history, defuse tensions and herald an era of progress and prosperity in the two nations. Pakistan’s misadventure in Kargil has been adequately paid and that nation is in the throes of a turmoil. The BJP government would do well to leave the history alone and get ahead to set the nation on a path to progress. The shelving of the UP Bill is a welcome change in the party’s attitude.