Hyderabad: A lone minaret on the busy streets of Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur city called ‘Jinnah Tower’, a key landmark built in the 1940s, has become a bone of contention between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government.
Local police Wednesday detained a few people, who identified themselves as members of a group called ‘Hindu Vahini’, as they allegedly attempted to unfurl the Tricolour at the tower on Republic Day.
Although the detained members were released the same day, the police action drew the ire of the BJP, which took objection to state police “trying to stop people from hoisting the national flag”. According to local police, the Vahini members were detained to prevent any untoward incident in the “communally sensitive area”.
The BJP has now also begun to demand that the tower — named after the founder of Pakistan and All India Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah — be renamed as ‘APJ Abdul Kalam Tower’, after the late president and scientist.
CM @ysjagan mind that we are not in Pakistan.
Shame on AP Govt. Which prevented Hindu Vahini activist to unfurl National Flag on #RepublicDay, we will not leave the fight of renaming Jinnah Tower in #Guntur as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Tower. pic.twitter.com/QCmoUvf15q
— Sunil Deodhar (@Sunil_Deodhar) January 26, 2022
BJP national secretary and state co-incharge Sunil Deodhar questioned the “relevance” of the name ‘Jinnah Tower’, adding that the state BJP has been constantly demanding that it be renamed after Bharat Ratna awardee Kalam, but the chief minister was not inclined to do so “to appease the minority community”.
State Endowment Minister Velampalli Srinivas hit back at the BJP on Twitter, referring to its former ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP): “The parties in power who ruled the state between 2014 to 2019, did not remember that there was a Jinnah Tower in Guntur. 75 years after independence, the BJP is now trying to create a controversy over the 100 year old tower in Guntur, Could this get any worse?”
YSRCP Member of Legislative Council Appi Reddy accused the BJP of “trying to instigate the people by raking up communal issues”.
“BJP over the past two weeks has been making contentious statements of razing down the monument. On this pretext, a fence was raised and police security was beefed up for citizens’ safety,” he told ThePrint.
“While there is hue and cry over the change of the tower’s name and razing it down, the BJP leaders should not forget that they were in alliance with the TDP from 1999 to 2004 and again from 2014 to 2018, during which time they formed the government. BJP leader P. Manikyala Rao held the endowment portfolio back then. Why didn’t he change the name if BJP were so keen on it?” he asked.
This is not the first time an Opposition party has targeted the Andhra chief minister for appeasing a particular community. Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, a Christian by faith, has often been accused by the BJP and the TDP of “turning a blind eye to threats to Hinduism” and encouraging “Christian conversion”.
In 2019, Jagan had faced flak from the Opposition after announcing a monthly honorarium for pastors. The YSR Congress government subsequently clarified that similar benefits were being given to Muslim clerics and Hindu priests too, and different government orders being issued for the same.
Meanwhile, police have denied allegations that their aim was to prevent people from hoisting the Tricolour.
Guntur Urban Superintendent of Police Arif Hafeez told ThePrint that the Guntur Municipal Corporation, which maintains the tower, had received “messages from different groups” that the tower would be demolished if it is not renamed soon. Upon receiving this information from the corporation, security was tightened in the area.
“We did not just stop them because they tried to hoist a flag. Why would we do that? It is a communally sensitive area and because the municipal corporation told us that a few groups are thinking of demolishing it, we increased security and made sure no one gathered closer to the tower,” Hafeez added. Asked who these groups were, he said he did not have an exact idea.
ThePrint contacted newly-appointed Guntur Municipal Commissioner Nishant Kumar, who refused to comment on the issue, adding that he took charge Thursday and will require time to gather information.
Two narratives on tower’s history
The ‘Jinnah Tower’ was built before Partition, sometime between 1942 and 1945, according to historians.
There are two narratives on how the tower came into existence. According to the more popular account, it was built by Lal Jan Basha — who was a legislative member from Guntur in the erstwhile Madras Presidency — in honour of Jinnah, Guntur-based author and historian Syed Naseer Ahamed, who has written several books on the role of Muslims in the freedom struggle, told ThePrint.
“Following a riot in Guntur’s Komerapudi village, one of the largest in Sattenapalli Mandal, sometime before 1942, around 14 people from the Muslim community were given a death sentence due to their role in it,” S.M. Ziauddin, grandson of Lal Jan Basha, said.
“The families approached Lal Jan Basha for help, who then reached out to Jinnah, who was an advocate with the Bombay High Court at the time,” he added.
It is unclear whether the riots in Komerapudi were of a communal nature or against the British. There are multiple versions of the same.
“Jinnah was also my grandfather’s advocate. My grandfather approached him and Jinnah helped reduce the sentences of these 14 people. They were then given life sentences, earlier it was death sentence. So as a gesture of thanks, my grandfather built this tower in Guntur, to remember him for life,” he added.
Ziauddin, a former TDP MLA, joined the YSRCP last July and is now the minority affairs adviser. Another grandson of Basha, named after him, was a Member of Parliament from the TDP, and died in a road accident in 2013.
Following Jinnah’s help, Basha invited him to Guntur and organised a public meeting to thank him. Jinnah, however, could not make it to the meeting, but sent his representative Judaliyaquat Ali Khan, another leader of the Muslim League, said Ahamed. Freedom fighters Konda Venkatappaiah, Unnava Lakshminarayana, Kalluri Chandramouli also attended the public meeting.
The tower, which was inaugurated after the meeting, eventually became a key landmark in old Guntur. It is said that Jinnah also wrote to Basha thanking him for the gesture.
Another narrative about how the tower came into being is that two municipal chairpersons, Nadimpalli Narasimha Rao and Telakulla Jalayya, were, during their respective terms, tasked with its construction as a symbol of peace and harmony.
“Unfortunately, there is not much information anywhere to show how Jinnah Tower came into existence but the most talked about one, or believable one, is Lal Basha’s story. It has nothing to do with Pakistan. It is more to thank Jinnah for his gesture. It is also said that Basha’s public meeting was attended by people from all communities,” Ahamed said.
Even the state’s archaeology department does not have any information regarding the Jinnah Tower as the structure is not yet recognised by the department and is maintained by the municipal corporation, officials told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Some local residents in Guntur said they are unaware of the tower’s history, but consider it a symbol of harmony between the communities.
“Jinnah Tower is the key landmark in Guntur and the area is called Jinnah Tower area. Never did we ever think of why it was named after Jinnah. We always believe it is a symbol of harmony for us,” Praveen, a resident of Guntur, told ThePrint.
YSRCP MLC Appi Reddy has another theory. “Jinnah Tower is a landmark monument on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Guntur city, a symbol of peace and harmony. It was constructed when Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah visited the city before Independence for one of the Congress’ meetings,” he told ThePrint.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)