Tricolour hoisted at controversial Idgah Maidan, Bengaluru; dispute over land continues

Even as the Independence day celebrations, held for the first time at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru, went off peacefully, the tensions between the two communities continue to simmer, with Ganesha festival around the corner

Idgah Maidan controversy, Bengaluru
Independence day celebrations held under tight security at the Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru: Pro-Hindu groups now want to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi at the Idgah Maidan, which the Auqaf board claims belong to them. Pic: PTI

The credit goes to a local MLA and the Karnataka state administration for managing to  douse rising communal tensions and hoist the tricolour for the first time at the controversial Idgah Maidan, in Chamarajapet in Bengaluru.

Yet, August 31st will turn out to be the true test for the state authorities when the Ganesha festival is likely to be celebrated on the land the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf  claims as its property. While the civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) has classified it as revenue land and declared the Karnataka revenue department as the default owner. A decision that is being hotly contested by the Wakf Board.

Already, history was created when the state revenue department gave the nod to hoist the Tricolour for the first time at the Idgah grounds, located in Chamrajpet, one of the oldest localities in Bengaluru, on Independence day. After a lot of deliberation, the revenue department gave into the demand of Hindu outfits to hoist the national flag on the grounds. Chamarajapet MLA BZ Zameer Ahmed Khan was also keen on the event and the city police too gave their approval.

Independence Day was celebrated amid tight security at the Idgah grounds, as the Congress MLA Zameer Khan and BJP MP PC Mohan witnessed the flag hoisting by revenue department’s assistant commissioner MG Shivanna. Around 850 police, including eight platoons of reserve police, guarded the grounds, where several cultural programmes were also held as part of the August 15 celebrations. The police had held several rounds of discussion with the groups in the area to ease the rising communal tensions.


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A peaceful Independence Day event

Sources said that the Muslim community leaders showed wisdom by not getting provoked over any statements issued by the other side. The Ulemas (religious leaders) and the Ulema Emreath Shariat, the board consisting of Muslim leaders, including Ulemas, advocates, government officers, social activists etc., managed to ensure the community did not react to any kind of provocations over the Idgah Maidan issue.

They had even advised the MLA to allow the National Flag to be hoisted on Independence day as the celebration is meant for all citizens. Interestingly, the state home department too did not want this issue to flare up and create an issue especially, after the ugly turn of events in the Karnataka coastal region.

Mohamed Maqsood Imran of the Khateeb-o-Imam Jamla Masjid and the principal of Jamia-ul-Uloom Arabic College told The Federal that national festivals like Independence day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti are to be celebrated by all and we have to respect it. “It does not belong to any community and we support the celebrations of national festival, ” he said. On the ongoing tussle between the revenue department and Auqaf over the Idgah land ownership, he said that both bodies are part of the government and they don’t need to fight among themselves.

Zameer Khan, famous for making controversial statements which embarrass his leaders and the Congress party, also showed restraint. However, he announced that besides the Independence day function, the Republic Day and Kannada Rajyotsava festival would be celebrated at Idgah Maidan in the future. His statements seemed to support the stand of the pro-Hindu groups who were ostensibly pacified. After attending the Independence day celebrations, Zameer Khan expressed his happiness that the event was held peacefully without any untoward incidents despite the participation of right-wing organisations.

Ganesha festival

This bonhomie, however, is not expected to stretch to include holding Ganesh Chaturthi festivities at the Maidan. Revenue minister R Ashok, who announced that the Idgah Maidan is owned by the revenue department, however said his department is yet to decide whether any other activity will be given permission to be held at the Chamarajpet grounds, which includes the Ganesha festival on August 31.

CT Ravi, the BJP national general secretary, recently brought up the issue asking why the Ganesh festival celebrations cannot be held at the Idgah Maidan. It remains to be seen how the local administration will handle this tricky situation. Already, Zameer Khan has made it clear that the Ganesha Pooja will not be allowed on Idgah Maidan, and the pro-Hindu organisations have challenged his statement.

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The disputed land of Idgah Maidan

Chamarajpet’s Idgah Maidan, which has witnessed many legal tussles for the past few decades, has now turned into a sensitive communal issue due to the presence of politically-backed groups in the area.

This traditionally communally sensitive area has been quiet for the past 15 years because of the well-behaved Hindu and Muslim communities currently living in the locality. However, due to the prevailing political climate in Karnataka, where Hindutva fringe groups are fanning trivial issues and making them communal, is also affecting the Chamrajpet Idgah Maidan issue.

Earlier, the ground was used by Muslims for prayers during the festivals held by Mysore kings. However, the ownership of this 10-acre ground was hotly contested and turned controversial in 1952.

Sources told The Federal that this ground was used as a playground and for grazing cattle. And that the ground near Gori Palya, half a kilometre from Chamarajpet Idgah ground was given to the Muslims. However, the Wakf Board claimed that the ground belongs to them, as the court solved the dispute long ago in 1964, when it came under the control of the Central Muslim Association (CMA).

However, the stand of the local pro-Hindu organisations is that the land belongs to the revenue department. S Bhaskaran, president, Vishwa Sanatan Parishat said that Hindu religious programmes should be allowed on the Idgah Maidan. “Local Muslims are not against it, but the police and local MLA (Zameer Ahmed Khan) are not giving permission,” publicly declared Bhaskaran.

Further, he challenged the authorities that if they do not allow Hindus to perform their religious programmes the ground will be destroyed. However, Bhaskaran was later booked by the local police for his volatile statements.

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BBMP stakes its claim over Idgah ground

The BBMP, however, has claimed that 2 acres of the Idgah ground belongs to them.

The Nagarika Okkoota Samiti (Citizen forum) has argued that the government has to allow all programmes, including Hindu festivals, on the ground. But, they will not allow goats and sheep to be sold in the area. At the same time, pro-Hindu groups were given a month by the government to intervene and solve the issue or face further consequences.

After the Hindu groups’ recent demand for hoisting the National Flag and the Wakf Board refusal to give permission, prompted the BBMP commissioner ordered to verify the ownership. The Wakf board failed to reply to the BBMP notices and subsequently, the joint commissioner of BBMP passed the order utilising his quasi-judicial powers and termed the land as a revenue department property.

The BBMP had also argued that neither the Karnataka State Board of AUQAF partook in 1974 survey of the city nor did any Muslim organisation record their claim over the ownership of the disputed land.

Since the ownership was not transferred to any Muslim organisation’s name, the BBMP has claimed that the body has been in possession of the disputed land since 2006. The body has also built pavements around the Maidan, a public toilet, and a facility to drink water, BBMP claimed.

Meanwhile, the Wakf board chairman, Shafi Saadi has said that they have strong records of ownership of the Idgah Maidan in their favour and will fight the case against the revenue department.