Acting on a Supreme Court order, the BJP-led Chhattisgarh government early Sunday began the process of demolishing a Hanuman temple that was built on land illegally owned by a trust of the Vidhan Sabha Speaker. However, the process was “suspended” after protests created a “law and order problem”.
Members of the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and VHP were among those who arrived at Mahadev Ghat, where the temple is located, early in the morning to oppose the demolition. Also present were Congress members, who maintained that the “problem was entirely created by the state government, which was fanning communal tension”, but said they “were not in favour of demolishing the temple”.
On May 15, the Supreme Court ordered demolition of the Hanuman temple, as well as 19 shops that had been built by the Chagan Lal Govind Ram Trust, owned by Speaker Gaurishankar Agrawal. The order was based on an affidavit submitted by the state government that admitted that the structure had come up even though government departments had held that the appropriation of the land was illegal, and that the temple was taken over from the trust after the tehsildar ordered its demolition in 2014.
This became a huge political row in the state at that time, with the Congress demanding a no-confidence motion against the Speaker. The party pointed out that even though the land was illegally owned, Chief Minister Raman Singh had been part of the “pran pratishthan” ceremony of the temple.After the SC order in May, The Indian Express had reported that 34 BJP MLAs had written to the state government asking it to “protect the temple”, which had become a “centre for faith.”
At 4 am Sunday, a team of the district administration arrived at the temple and began the process of demolishing the shops on the periphery of the compound. Soon, a massive crowd began protesting, forcing the administration to suspend its operations.
Raipur District Magistrate O P Choudhary said, “In line with the directions of the Supreme Court, a large team began demolition of the structure. Some portions have been demolished. However, we had to suspend operations because of a developing law and order situation. Given the sensitivity of the matter, further course of action cannot be disclosed.”
Those involved in the case, however, said that “a drama was enacted” after word was spread on Saturday night that action would be taken, fanning religious tension. Rakesh Choubey of Humar Sangwari, the NGO that filed the petition in the Supreme Court, said, “Communal tension is being fanned in the state by the government. Last night itself, messages were circulated and members of the Shiv Sena reached the temple. We feared for our security after we raised our voice against something that is patently illegal.”
BJP spokesperson Sachidanand Upasne said the party had issued no orders to its members to oppose the demolition, but those with “feelings of faith” were present in their individual capacity. “It is not right to say that the BJP is protesting against its own government… People gathered in their personal capacities to say that the temple should not be demolished. Why just the BJP, even members of the Congress, Shiv Sena, leaders of the chamber of commerce, those who have “Hindu faith” were there,” Upasne said.
Vikas Upadhyaya, Raipur Congress president, said, “We are against the BJP fanning communal tension. On the question of the temple, we are not in favour of its demolition.”