A makeshift tin temple has been built at the spot where the old temple stood in Huchchagani village | Photo: Anusha Ravi Sood/ThePrint
A makeshift tin temple has been built at the spot where the old temple stood in Huchchagani village | Photo: Anusha Ravi Sood/ThePrint
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Mysuru: The midnight demolition of a minor temple in a remote part of Mysuru district, as part of an anti-encroachment drive in line with a 10-year-old Supreme Court order, has snowballed into a political storm, with Hindu groups up in arms against the BJP-ruled government in the state, and the Congress piping in with ‘Hindu sentiments being hurt’.     

Such has been the backlash that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, still fighting battles within his own party after having only taken over in July, asked the district administration to stop the anti-encroachment drive Tuesday evening.

“We have issued a show-cause notice to the Mysuru administration on why people were not taken into confidence before the demolition. We have asked for the drive to be put on hold for a couple of days to study the Supreme Court order,” Bommai said in a press conference. 

What transpired that day

On the ground in Mysuru, there are still echoes of the demolition that was carried out in the early hours of 8 September. 

Sitting under a tree amid the rubble of what used to be the famous Adishakti Mahadevamma temple in Huchchagani village in Nanjangud, Narasimhegowda narrated to ThePrint what transpired that day. 

“Officials from the tehsildar office came to the temple and started demolishing it without notice. It must have been 3 am. All of us villagers woke from our sleep and rushed to the spot and protested but we were told that the temple was an unauthorised structure and had to be demolished according to a Supreme Court order,” he said. When daybreak hit, the villagers arranged for earthmovers to pile up the rubble left behind by the district administration. 

Narasimhegowda of Hucchagani village | ThePrint
Narasimhegowda of Huchchagani village | ThePrint

But hours after the demolition, villagers said, members of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike arrived at the village. “They told us that we should fight this demolition legally. We had decided to relocate the temple nearby and were shifting the deities when they insisted that the idols should be reinstalled where they originally had been,” Narasimhegowda said. 

The villagers and pro-Hindu outfit workers then built a makeshift tin temple at the very spot where the old temple stood. The only change — saffron flags and banners, put up by the Vedike members, are now part of the temple. 

The residents of Huchchagani have also decided to form a trust, pool in money and build a new temple. One of the residents has agreed to donate five gunthas (1.25 acres) of her farm for the construction of the temple. 

“We don’t want to rebuild the temple in the same place since it was demolished once. We are ready to relocate it nearby but we are thankful to all the organisations and parties that are supporting us,” Narasimhegowda said. 

The villagers claim that the temple is centuries old.

Yethe, a 67-year-old resident of the village, recalled how the temple looked when he was a little boy. “It was a small structure with stones on three sides and a flat roof. We used to bend down to perform pooja,” he told ThePrint. “The cement structure including the gopura (temple dome) was built about 25 years ago but the temple along with two idols of Mahadevamma and Bhairaveshwara have been here for centuries, as we were told by my grandfather.” 

Villagers are in agreement with district administration that the temple is not documented either with the revenue department or the archaeology department or the endowments department. It was, however, among the 6,395 structures identified by the Karnataka government as being unauthorised and illegal in an exercise it carried out between 2009 and 2010. 

“We are only working on a list that was already prepared by the government,” an official from Mysuru district administration told The Print on the condition of anonymity. “It identifies unauthorised structures — including religious structures belonging to all communities without discrimination — as encroaching on public roads, public utilities. The demolition drive was carried out according to Supreme Court orders.”

According to district officials, the Mahadevamma temple sits on State Highway 57. “It was one of the 15 temples identified in the taluk as illegal and unauthorised by the tehsildar in February 2010, following a Supreme Court order dated 7 December 2009. Three among these temples were cleared in 2010 already and some of them were regularised,” read a message sent from the district administration to politicians raising the matter. ThePrint has accessed this message. 

The political turn that the demolition has taken has shocked officials, by their own admission. District administration officials told ThePrint that the list of unauthorised structures also includes churches and dargahs. 


Also read: ‘Was a mistake’: BJP’s Shrimanth Patil clarifies remark that party offered him money to defect


Politics of Hindu protection

The videos of the demolition went viral after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s MP from Mysuru-Kodagu, Pratap Simha, tweeted it a day after the incident. 

“Whom did this temple trouble?” he tweeted along with the video. 

His tweet was met with some support, but largely criticism from citizens and opposition leaders who wondered why a BJP MP was taking to social media to raise the matter when his party was in power at the state, central and local levels. 

But the issue really snowballed only after the leader of opposition in the Karnataka assembly and Congress leader Siddaramaiah accused the state government of hurting Hindu sentiments.

On 11 September, Siddaramaiah raked up the issue when he shared the demolition video and accused the BJP government of hurting religious sentiments. 

Following Siddaramaiah’s statements, Congress began mounting one offensive after another against the Bommai-led BJP government, accusing it of hurting Hindu sentiments — a ploy that the BJP and its affiliate organisations often use against detractors. 

After Siddaramaiah raked up the issue, Simha revived his opposition to the demolition with a series of press conferences. The Vishva Hindu Parishad joined in Saturday, a day after Siddaramaiah’s outburst, and staged a protest in Mysuru against the district administration for “targeting Hindu religious structures”. 

Simha then held a press conference Sunday, in which he accused the district administration of targeting Hindu places of worship, while ignoring encroachment by mosques and churches. He courted controversy when he made provocative statements against churches and mosques during the press address. 

While the Congress and the BJP sparred over the temple demolition, the JD(S) jumped on the bandwagon Tuesday. 

“On one hand, the state government demolishes temples and on the other, its affiliate organisations protest against it. The government can stop the demolition of religious structures if it wants to. After all, the BJP whose politics revolves around ‘patenting’ protection of Hindus, is in power in the state,” mocked H.D. Kumaraswamy, former chief minister and JD(S)’ legislature party chief.

 

In all of this, the elephant in the room is hard to miss — the politics in the region. 

Mysuru has traditionally been a battleground between the JD(S) and Congress, but the BJP has made inroads over the last decade. It has also led to the irony of the Congress and JD(S) taking potshots at the BJP government over a temple issue. 

“This issue was blown out of proportion only after Siddaramaiah spoke about it. The moment he accused the BJP-led government of being anti-Hindu, BJP leaders and pro-Hindu organisations upped the ante,” said a resident of the taluk who works at the tehsildar office, and who did not want to be identified. 

A close aide of Siddaramaiah defended the Congress leader. “Nanjangud is his home turf and it is an issue that is of sentimental value to the people there,” the aide said. “Moreover, had this happened under a Congress government, would the BJP be quiet as it is now?” 


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Current status

Caught between implementing the apex court’s order and the politics around the clearance drive, district administrators have now halted their operations. 

“Clearance drives have been an ongoing process since 2010, where many structures have been demolished. The list is revised as and when required to check if reallocation, regularisation can be enacted. We have a list of 93 unauthorised structures in Mysuru city alone. We will now review each of these on a case-by-case basis,” said a senior official of the Mysuru City Corporation who did not wish to be named. 

Siddaramaiah spoke the media at the Vidhana Soudha Wednesday, insisting that the decision to put the drive on hold was an afterthought.

“The BJP cheats people in the name of God but permits demolition of temples. Does the state government really want people to believe that it wasn’t aware of the district administration’s actions? They have halted it only after public outcry,” he said.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)  


Also read: Why Bengaluru city corporation not holding polls for corporators is more than a ‘404 error’


 

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