People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 29, 2004
THE IDGAH CONTROVERSY
Communalism With Fake Patriotism
Idgah Maidan controversy is once again in limelight following the non-bailable
warrant issued against Uma Bharti and her subsequent histrionics.
August 15, 1994, Uma Bharti had attempted to fly the national flag in the Maidan
despite the fact that the issue of the ownership of the Idgah Maidan was sub
judice. The flag hoisting issue is an example of the harassment of the
Muslims community by the Sangh Parivar in Karnataka. It may be noted that this
incident though totally unlawful had the backing of the Sangh Parivar.
artist and play writer Girish Karnad who belongs to Hubli-Dharwad had
immediately after the flag hoisting in the Idgah Maidan released a statement on
the incident in a press conference held in Delhi on August 26, 1994. His idea
was to place all the facts concerning Idgah Maidan controversy before the people
of this country. This statement of Girish Karnad is reproduced below in view of
Sangh Parivar’s renewed attempt to revive communal passions using Idgah Maidan
CITIZENS for Democracy, Karnataka (CFD-K) has just published a Report tilted ‘The Controversy regarding the Raising of National Flag in the Idgah Maidan.’ The report is written by Dr Sanjeev Kulkarni but is a collaborative effort of citizens from all walks of life, such as S R Hiremath, a scientist-turned-social worker, John Bellary, a teacher, Basava Prabhu Hoskeri, a lawyer, R A Nagamule, an engineer, Dr A M Jamadar, a doctor and several others. It is written in Kannada and an English version is being prepared.
I, as a citizen of Hubli-Dharwad, am concerned that their findings are placed before the national press in view of the extensive coverage that the event has received this year as well of the escalating violence that has been accompanying it. But the responsibility for the phrasing of the following text as well as for the tone of rendering is entirely mine. Remarks within brackets are also mine.
There are two separate facets to the Idgah Maidan controversy. The first relates to the question of the ownership of the Maidan, the second to the issue of hoisting the national flag on the Maidan. The two issues have to be understood separately if the whole sorry episode is to make sense.
The Idgah Maidan is an open plot of land of about 991 square yards (CTS No. 174 in Ward no. 3) near the main bus stop in Hubli.
Muslim community of Hubli claims that the Idgah Maidan has been in their
exclusive possession for over two hundred years and that the prayer walls there
are at least that old. This claim has been contested by other parties.
basic facts of the case are as follows:
Hubli Municipality was formed in 1920. On August 5, 1921, the Municipality
passed a resolution granting the Maidan on Lease for 999 years to the Anjuman-e-Islam
organisation for an annual rent of Rupee one.
(Among other provisions, it permitted the Anjuman to build a compound
wall around the property, which in fact was never built). This grant was
approved by the government of Bombay on January 11, 1922, and the lease deed was
singed on May 17, 1930.
1960, when the Municipal borough was under suppression, the Anjuman sought the
permission of the government administrator to build a building on the Maidan,
the ground floor of which would be used for commercial purposes and the upper
floors for an educational institution. This plan was approved by the Divisional
Commissioner in Belgaum as well as by the then Mysore government. This is when
the trouble started. The approval by the government of the plan proposed by the
Anjuman was challenged by some citizens in the court of law.
I shall skip the tedious details. The decision delivered by the Court of the Munsiff in Hubli on December 7, 1972 went against the Anjuman-e-Islam. On appeal, the Additional Civil Judge upheld a part of the verdict of the Munsiff Court. On further appeal, the High Court of Karnataka, on June 8, 1992, upheld the judgment of the Additional Civil Judge. The judgment of the High Court may be summarised as follows:
The Idgah Maidan is not the exclusive property of the Anjuman-e-Islam but belongs to what was by then the Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation.
The Maidan was licensed to the Anjuman for purely religious purposes, that is, to offer prayers on two days in the years, the Bakrid and the Ramzaan.
The Anjuman may not use the property for any educational or commercial purpose.
The permanent structures already erected by the Anjuman may be demolished within 45 days.
The public (inclusive of the Muslim community) has no customary rights of the user on the property. Following this judgment, the Anjuman made a Special Leave Petition to the Supreme Court to appeal against the above judgment and sought a stay order against the demolition of the permanent structures. The stay was granted.
Members of the Sangh Parivar also appealed to the Supreme Court seeking restoration of customary rights to the public. After condonation of delay, the petition was allowed by the Supreme Court on April 19, 1993. (This part is generally not known.)
What the Anjuman underlines is that from the beginning (in 1920), it has sought and received sanction from the requisite legal authority for every one of its action. It has been scrupulous in remaining on the right side of the law.
NATIONAL FLAG ISSUE
According to the statement made by the Rashtradhvaja Gowrava Samrakshana Samiti (The Committee for Protecting the Honour of the National Flag) to the Citizens for Democracy, Karnataka, when Dr Murli Manhor Joshi declared that he would hoist the national flag in the Lal Chowk of Srinagar on January 26, 1992 as a part of the ‘Save Kashmir’ campaign, it was decided to hold similar functions all over India. In Hubli, neither the Nehru Maidan nor the Murusavira Matha Maidan were available. So the Samiti decided to hoist the flag on the ‘Chennamma Maidan’ of the corporation (the Sangh Parivar’s special name for the Idgah Maidan). When they approached the police, the latter tried to dissuade them. But a group of about fifty volunteers decided to go ahead with their plan regardless. According to them, as they were raising the flag, the police rushed in and pulled the flag down in an insulting manner, which wounded their patriotic sentiments. Since in independent India, a citizen has the right to fly the national flag in any place, they vowed to persist until they had succeeded in flying the flag in the Maidan. They wrote to all the political parties seeking support but only the BJP responded.
Two main points need to be noted here:
The incident tool place on January 26, 1992, when the case was still being considered by the High Court and was therefore sub judice. The RGSS could not have been unaware of this fact.
Secondly, as is clear from the above description, the dispute is between the RGSS and the police and therefore does not involve the Anjuman-e-Islam.
Since then on every August 15 and January 25, the RGSS in association with the RSS and the BJP has attempted to fly the flag on the Idgah Maidan. This year the BJP gave the event full support and treated it as an event of national importance by sending its leaders, like Uma Bharti, Sikander Bakht, and Abbas Ali Bohra to participate in the event.
How lawful are these subsequent attempts?
Apart from the fact that the High Court has quite explicitly not conceded the customary rights of the user to the public and this has been challenged in the Supreme Court by the Sangh Parivar itself,
before every August 15 and January 26, a certain Devedra Naik has been approaching the Munsiff Court in Hubli for permission to hoist the flag and has been refused permission.
in August 1993, several members of the RGSS approached the High Court of Karnataka for permission to fly the flag and the High Court left the decision to the government.
Neither the RGSS, nor the RSS nor the BJP is party to any of the lawsuits, preferring to fight them through individuals. (This enables them to claim victory when the verdict is in their favour and pretend ignorance when it is not.)
The Anjuman-e-islam has refused to comment (or act) on the flag issue and has remained absolutely silent. The controversy thus involves only the RGSS and the state government and not the Anjuman.
(I must here point out that the impression created in the press that the Muslim community is refusing to raise the flag on the Idgah Maidan because it does not want the national flag to fly on their prayer ground is totally baseless. It is another instance of the deliberate disinformation that surrounds the issue.
No question of flying the national flag on the Idgah Maidan had arisen until the problem was manufactured by the Sangh Parivar. The Muslim community sees no reasons to be pressurised into doing so now by parties obviously out to embarrass or harass them.
The communal intent of the Sangh Parivar’s endeavour is clear in their insistence on calling the place ‘Chennamma Maidan’ after the statue of Queen Kittur Chennamma installed recently in the traffic circle nearby rather than by its official name, ‘Idgah Maidan’ – although the latter is used, by them, inevitably, in all court documents.)
The absolute refusal of the Muslim community to comment on the flag has foiled the hopes of the Sangh Parivar of communalising the issue. That the debate is now only between the Sangh Parivar and the state government is not of any obvious advantage to the former. So they have now started saying that they do not care who flies the flag as long as it is flown.
(What political advantage the Parivar will try to gain from the unfortunate police firing on August 15, in which six bystanders were killed, remains to be seen. It is significant that the ABVP leaders were demanding that the six bodies be cremated on the Idgah Maidan itself.)
The Karnataka state elections are scheduled for November 1994. The BJP is perfectly aware that, if elected to power, its government will not be able to fly the flag on the Idgah Maidan without being guilty of contempt of court. They have therefore been declaring that the attempt on August 15, 1994 would be the last such attempt.
The RGSS and its allies have always been claiming that their wish is to see the national flag fly on the Idgah Maidan property just once.
the morning of August 15, 1994 the Sangh Parivar claimed that they had succeeded
in hoisting the flag on the Idgah Maidan, unseen by the police; whatever the
veracity of this claim, now that they have done so to their own satisfaction, it
is to be hoped there will be no further repetition of this unfortunate event,
which has turned the two national days into sheer nightmares for the citizens of