Ayodhya And Hubballi: The Cities That Defined The Course Of Indian Politics

As major centres for the arts, adorned by doyennes of Hindustani music, the twin towns of Ayodhya–Faizabad and Hubballi–Dharwad have had multiple glories. If the one had Begum Akhtar, the other was crowned by Gangubai Hangal. But the towns, situated over 1700 km apart, are also connected by a cord that has changed the course of Indian politics. Hubballi’s Idgah Maidan holds a similar place in Karnataka politics as Ayodhya has in north India. If the temple movement firmly situated the BJP in the Hindi heartland, the long-drawn Idgah campaign eventually brought the party to power in Karnataka in 2008.

The thread was revived earlier this month when the Karnataka high court’s decision to allow Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at the Idgah Maidan came on the day the Supreme Court dismissed contempt proceedings in the Babri Masjid case. The delivery of two seemingly unrelated judgments on a single day was perhaps not a coincidence. The protagonists of the Ayodhya and Hubballi movements were identical —one of whom was Uma Bharti.

In August 2004, the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti resigned from her post and boarded a train to Hubballi, after warrants were issued by a local court against her in an old case when she had defied curfew and tried to hoist the national flag at the Idgah Maidan on August 15, 1994. The 32-hour train journey, full of deliberate delays and detours, reminded one of her earlier avatar, when she gave the famous slogan during the temple movement: “Ram Lalla hum ayenge, mandir wahin banayenge.”

Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) Hubballi president Sanjeev Badaskar vividly recalls those tumultuous years. He was an ABVP member, pursuing a bachelors in commerce when Bharti tried to hoist the flag. “Six RSS–BJP members were killed in the subsequent police firing,” he tells Outlook.

The Hubballi saga began in 1992 when BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi went to Srinagar to hoist the flag at Lal Chowk on January 26. “The BJP–RSS asked their members to hoist the flag at district headquarters all over the country,” Badaskar says. The Sangh Parivar wanted to hoist the flag at Idgah Maidan, but the administration denied permission. “We took it as a challenge,” Badaskar says. Two decades later, the ghosts of Hubballi returned when Badaskar, who also heads the Rani Chennamma Gajanan Utsav Mahamandal, was allowed to erect the Ganesh pandal at the Maidan during the recent festival. The Ganesh celebrations mark yet another addition to a series of events that have polarised the atmosphere ahead of the state elections.
The Idgah land belonged to the Hubballi municipality before a local Muslim organisation, Anjuman-e-Islam (AeI), got a 999-year lease of the land in 1921 and was allowed to hold Eid prayers twice a year. For the remaining part of the year, the Maidan was used for sports, fairs and public meetings. A controversy surfaced when the AeI decided to construct some structures at the Maidan, drawing protests by Sangh Parivar leaders. The matter soon flared up, with senior BJP leaders announcing that they would unfurl the tricolour at the Maidan on Republic Day in 1992. In subsequent years, the BJP upped the ante in Hubballi and tried to hoist the flag at the Maidan on several occasions, as the minor dispute took a communal turn, before the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the Maidan was the property of the Hubballi–Dharwad Municipal Corporation, with the AeI authorised to hold prayers only twice a year. But by then Hubballi had offered a solid platform to the Parivar. “The issue hugely strengthened the RSS–BJP in Karnataka,” Badaskar says.

The latest court case in Hubballi also relates to the meaning of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act. After the municipal corporation allowed the celebration of the Ganesh festival at the Idgah, AeI filed a petition before the high court that the municipality was “trying to convert the place of worship”. The municipal corporation argued that since the petitioner does not own the property, it has the right to use the Maidan temporarily.

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