The Bharatiya Janata Party launched the Mathura folder in 2021, just as it was about to close the Ayodhya and Kashi chapters of its Hindutva curriculum. Some commentators predict that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath may run for the forthcoming Assembly election from the abode of Krishna after visiting the pilgrimage destination 18 times and showering it with about 200 projects.
“Magnificent temples were being erected in Ayodhya and Kashi, how could Mathura And Vrindavan be left behind,” he remarked this week at a rally in Amroha.
It’s not only the less-than-subtle suggestions on Twitter and during political rallies, according to experts. In 2021, a multi-pronged campaign centred upon the Krishna Janmabhoomi complex, which also houses the Shahi Idgah Masjid erected during Aurangzeb’s rule, was built.
It all began in September 2020, when a lawsuit was filed in a Mathura court to “reclaim” the whole Krishna Janmabhoomi complex, arguing that every inch of the edifice is sacred to Hindus. It called the 1968 agreement between the Krishna Janmabhoomi Sewa Sangh and the Shahi Idgah Trust “illegal.” Soon after, another petition was submitted, claiming that the 17th-century mosque on the grounds of the Katra Keshav Dev temple was erected on Lord Krishna’s birthplace.
An application was filed in April this year, requesting that the Archaeological Survey of India conduct a survey of the Mathura mosque, and another application was filed in December, requesting that namaaz be stopped in the Shahi Masjid because certain Hindu symbols are inscribed on one of its walls adjoining the temple.
During the second wave of the pandemic, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh called for havan in at least a lakh Mathura homes, and the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, along with three other groups, made a strident pitch on November 16 to conduct the ‘jalabhishek’ of Laddoo Gopal, the presiding deity, on December 6 and sought permission to install a deity inside the mosque. Despite the fact that the call was returned, it created tension and necessitated extensive security measures in the city, with four individuals arrested for screaming offensive chants.
Around the same time, the party’s political leadership raised the stakes, with Harnath Yadav, a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh, calling for the repeal of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991, which prohibits the conversion of any place of worship and requires the preservation of any place of worship as it was on August 15, 1947, during Parliament’s Winter Session.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya’s tweet, which stated that building of huge temples in Ayodhya and Kashi is ongoing, and that preparations are underway in Mathura, sparked outrage.
Insiders inside the party defended his comments, claiming that it was a demand for the upliftment of the temple grounds rather than the removal of any structures.
Perhaps encouraged, Lakshmi Narayan Chaudhary, a Cabinet Minister in the Uttar Pradesh government who represents the Chhata seat in Mathura, chimed in with a comment in which he asked whether a temple would not be erected in Mathura where it would be. Lahore and Islamabad were his two options. “After the restoration of Ram Janmabhoomi and Kashi, naturally, Mathura is highly significant,” Mathura MP Hema Malini stated.
“Don’t forget who constructed the Ram Temple in Ayodhya,” Mr Adityanath continued telling the people in Mathura.
The municipal government of Mathura recognised 22 wards of the city as pilgrimage centres in September, prohibiting the sale of booze and meat in the region. Several people from various groups who worked in the meat and liquor industries lost their jobs as a result of it.
Random acts of violence began to be reported as well. In August, a Muslim dosa vendor’s cart was allegedly vandalised because he named it Shrinath ji, one of Lord Krishna’s many names. Right-wing vigilantes dubbed it ‘economic jehad,’ claiming that Hindus would not appreciate being served by a Muslim posing as a Hindu. The American Dosa Corner was nicknamed by the dosa vendor.
Locals claimed they had resisted attempts to polarise Mathura, but they are concerned about how long they will be able to hold out.
Even during the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, old-timers claim that there were no communal riots in Mathura. When Uttarakhand was formed from Uttar Pradesh around the turn of the millennium, the hill state gained control of significant Hindu holy sites. As a result, Mathura became the most significant religious tourism centre in western Uttar Pradesh. According to experts, as part of the Golden Triangle, Mathura’s footfall has always been larger than that of Ayodhya and Kashi, and it has always been more monetarily affluent than its rivals since it receives a diverse range of visitors and pilgrims.
The Akhil Bhartiya Teerth Purohit Mahashabha wrote a letter to the Uttar Pradesh government on December 6 urging them to take action against right-wing individuals who yelled slogans. The body of priests not only claimed that any social strife would harm the temple town’s economy, but also wanted to join the lawsuit as a party, claiming that it did not want any changes to the complex. “Similarly, the Shri Mathur Chaturvedi Parishad resolved to retain the status quo as determined by the 1968 settlement,” Madhuvant Chaturvedi, attorney and convenor of Qaumi Ekta Manch, stated. “From what I’ve heard, the petitions won’t hold up as long as the Places of Worship Act is in place, which is why the BJP members of Parliament are pushing for its repeal.”
Some commentators believe the issue did not get the BJP’s expected traction since the Yamuna, Shir Banke Bihari, and Shri Girraj Maharaj are more important to Mathura Vaishnavas than Lord Krishna’s birthplace.
At least two of the petitioners, as well as the persons jailed for chanting aggressive chants on December 6, are outsiders, according to advocate Pavan Chaturvedi, who comes from a famous business family in the city.
“The BJP is like an orange,” Mr Chaturvedi, who has worked for the BJP for more than a decade, said. The outside is smooth, but the inner has a lot of divides. Muslims are the glue that holds them together. Following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Ram Temple, it appears that the party has assigned a new mission to the grassroots workers in order to retain it in power.”
Mr Chaturvedi said the BJP needed something to keep its flock together as the Rashtriya Lok Dal built a strong challenge in at least two of Mathura’s five assembly constituencies.
Muslims, he added, make about 15-17 percent of the city’s population and employ a major portion of the labour in the production of the headgear, gowns, and rosaries used to adore and beautify Lord Krishna. “Muslims account for at least 40% of the workers in our company.” When the Supreme Court handed down the Ram Janmabhoomi decision, hardly one made a fuss. He stated, “The past cannot be resurrected; the most we can do is rescue the present and construct a brighter future.”
Krishna is very much a part of everyone’s life in Mathura, according to Prof Zaheer Hasan, president of the Shahi Idgah Masjid Committee. “We honour both Surdas and Raskhan’s contributions. My Hindu friends and authorities present me a cake with Krishna’s flute and peacock feather engraved on it every Id, shortly after the namaz.”
However, he warned, Hindutva forces were spreading a slow poison, and the impact will be felt in the coming days. “What I saw was that when the call for namaaz at Shahi Masjid was made on December 6, the number of persons going to perform namaaz in the mosque unexpectedly increased without any call from the committee.” Normally, no more than 50-100 people show there in a day, but at that time, it was in the hundreds. It makes me nervous,” Hasan, a former English professor, remarked.
According to observers, the BJP’s temple run is also geared at mobilising the Dalits, who make up around 19 percent of the district’s population.
According to Dilip Kumar, a Dalit activist, the BJP’s religious message is resonating with the region’s Dalits. He claims that the Dalit young, who until recently saw education as a means of improving their situation, are now singing temple chants. “As you get more religious, you drift away from science and the constitution.” This is what the BJP and its partners are working on,” he added, adding that many in the community believed the BJP would give them with the self-respect they had sought for decades within the Hindu fold. “In the villages, Bhagatjis (local priests) have appeared among the population. When these Bhagatjis visit temples, they are not permitted to enter the inner shrine and are required to wash the temple floor, but for the time being, they are content with the newfound respect in the countryside,” Mr Kumar explained.
However, Rahul Gupta, a village registrar, claimed that the BJP had ceased reinventing itself and that the fundamental challenges were different. “Every weekend, villagers are unable to leave their houses because the roads are clogged with pilgrims on route to the Banke Bihari shrine.” The pernicious traffic bottleneck is a serious problem.” He said that the BJP’s use of religion to get votes is nothing new to Mathura residents. “The top’s message has simply strengthened those who had a grudge towards Muslims in their hearts but couldn’t express it in public.” Nonetheless, recent developments in other regions of the state may have sent a signal, in my opinion. It’s business as usual for us,” he remarked. “We would say hamau ghanta fark nahin padta (we don’t care) in Brij bhasha,” Mr Gupta added.