New Delhi: The demolition of a decades-old Hanuman Temple in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk has created an uproar in the national capital.
It has also triggered a tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which leads the government, and the BJP, which governs the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), the civic agency that carried out the razing exercise.
The temple was demolished in line with a Delhi High Court order, as part of the Delhi government’s Chandni Chowk Redevelopment Plan, at 4 am Sunday morning.
Members of Hindu Right-wing groups like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal as well as local residents have been protesting at the demolition site since Monday, claiming that their “religious sentiments have been hurt”.
On Tuesday, around 150 members of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the BJP leaders took out a march from the Gauri Shankar Mandir to the Sis Ganj Gurdwara in Chandni Chowk between 11am and 2pm. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, 60 people were detained as a precautionary measure, the office of the DCP (North) said. No FIR has so far been registered in connection with the protest, which involved a large gathering of people in violation of Covid-19 guidelines.
While the protest is learnt to have disrupted business in the market Monday, as shops opened late, the situation has stabilised since with police stepping in.
A four-layer security cordon has been put in place to stop the protesters from marching to the temple site. At least 40 police personnel were on duty at the site Wednesday when ThePrint team visited.
Residents of the area said they were disturbed by the demolition but refused to wade into the political blamegame. The only thing they had to say was that the temple should be reconstructed.
An ‘illegal temple’
The Hanuman temple — which local residents say has been granting their wishes for decades — has been in the eye of a storm for long. It was declared “illegal” by the Delhi High Court and the order for its removal was issued in 2015.
Its demolition last week comes in the backdrop of a series of Delhi High Court orders.
In November 2019, the court directed the Delhi government to ensure the removal of the religious structure since it had been identified as an impediment in the court-monitored beautification project involving the historical market.
The religious committee of the Delhi government, set up to identify unauthorised religious structures in the capital, had recommended that the temple ought to continue at the site, but the high court rejected its stand.
The demolition was postponed several times — including for Diwali last year, and because of a protest demonstration at the site. Ultimately, it was demolished in the small hours of 3 January.
Talking to ThePrint, VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said it was “very painful to see the authorities being biased towards the Hindu community”.
“There are so many religious structures that are on the road. I can make a list of at least 20 such places in Delhi. If redevelopment is priority, then that should be the case across the capital, why just demolish our Hindu temple?” Bansal said.
A delegation of the VHP led by its working president Alok Kumar met the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) Tuesday and demanded the reconstruction of the temple.
Sources in the L-G office told ThePrint that Kumar said “if the religious affairs committee of the Delhi government wanted, it could have resolved the matter and saved the temple from demolition but it did not do so”.
Kapil Khanna of the VHP said the Delhi Chief Minister “portrays himself as a Hanuman devotee, but he stepped back when the time came to save the ancient temple at Chandni Chowk”.
“We approached the Delhi government authorities several times since November 2019 and we weren’t even given an appointment to meet the CM,” added Khanna. “It is not just us, even people residing in the area are upset over this.”
Among devotees, the temple had come to be known as the Pracheen Manokamna Hanuman Temple, as shopkeepers, restaurant owners and residents in the area are convinced that any wish or “manokamna” made before the deity was fulfilled.
Akash Chaudhary, a resident who claims his father has been a regular visitor to the temple for 70 years, said the political nature of the debate surrounding the temple wasn’t their concern.
“We don’t care who did it — whether it is the AAP or the BJP or anyone else. We are being dragged into the political war when all we want is that the temple is reconstructed here,” he added.
Dilip Chaudhary, who has an electronics shop in the area, said, “Some of us didn’t start our day until we visited the temple, it was a custom before opening the shop.”
Ashok Kumar, the priest of the temple who was sitting at the site Wednesday, said: “We will not give up until we get some reassurance that the temple will be reconstructed.”
Pointing to the temple site, which is near a Peepal tree, he said: “The beautification could have happened even with the temple here, it wasn’t causing as much of an obstruction as has been alleged.
“If people working and residing here didn’t have an issue, why must others?” he asked.
Political war of words
Both the BJP and the AAP have been trading blame over the demolition.
AAP leader and MCD in-charge Durgesh Pathak said the BJP-ruled NDMC had demolished the temple, adding that “leaders of the BJP are accusing the AAP now to avoid public anger over such a ‘heinous crime’”.
“To hide this reality from the people of Delhi, with the help of the city police, the BJP demolished the temple when everybody was asleep,” he told journalists.
Senior AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj addressed a press conference Wednesday where he echoed Pathak’s claim.
“The BJP-run municipal corporation carried out the demolition at 4am when it was heavily pouring so that they could not be stopped,” he said, adding that it was a conspiracy “of the BJP’s Vijay Goel and Adesh Gupta”.
“The land belonged to MCD and, in fact, it is the religious committee of the Delhi government that approached the high court to save the temple,” he said.
भाजपा में दिल्ली में हनुमानजी का मंदिर इस तरह तोड़। जानिए पूरा सच। pic.twitter.com/5kLEETRwzr
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) January 6, 2021
Adesh Gupta of the BJP said if “(Delhi CM Arvind) Kejriwal and his government’s conscience was clear, he could have prevented the demolition of this temple”.
“When the development of Chandni Chowk started, the local RWAs, market and traders’ association had opposed it, but the government did not listen,” he added.
On Sunday, the Delhi BJP wrote to the Kejriwal government, seeking immediate reconstruction of the temple.
This is an updated version of the report