Lucknow: From taking on eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan in a contempt-of-court case to launching a legal battle for a ‘Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi temple’ in Mathura, 30-year-old advocate Mehek Maheshwari is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Rajya Sabha MP — and frequent litigant, especially when it comes to temples — Subramanian Swamy.
Speaking to ThePrint, Maheshwari identified himself as a “nationalist” and Lord Krishna devotee. He would support any movement for “historical course correction” in relation to demolished temples, he said.
He had filed a PIL demanding that the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura — which, it’s claimed, was built on the site of Lord Krishna’s birthplace — be acquired by the government and that the land where it is located be handed over to Hindus, but the court dismissed it on account of the petitioner’s absence on 19 January 2021.
Maheshwari said he had been unable to appear before the court as he failed to get video links last year, but immediately filed a restoration plea after dismissal.
Following this, on 17 February this year, a division bench of the Allahabad High Court, comprising Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Prakash Padia, restored the plea. It will now be heard on 25 July.
This has put Maheshwari in the spotlight once more.
He first came into the public eye in 2020 for filing a petition against Bhushan for his “scandalous” tweets against the then Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and some of his predecessors. While Bhushan said the tweets amounted to criticism, the Supreme Court went on to initiate contempt proceedings and fine him Re 1.
CA-turned-lawyer who interned with Subramanian Swamy
Originally from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, Maheshwari claims to be a very distant relative of a former Chief Justice of India, Ramesh Chandra Lahoti, a fellow native of Guna.
Maheshwari, who had almost completed a chartered accountancy course in Indore, dropped out in its final stages, after his father’s death, and turned to law.
“I was interested in taxation matters, but they don’t come to you easily. It is not that I take up temple-related issues only, I have done cases of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT),” he said.
“Fortunately, I got a chance to intern with Dr Subramanian Swamy in 2018. He is a very straightforward person and I like this, because I too am like that. I am still connected with him,” added Maheshwari, who calls Swamy one of his mentors.
During this internship, in addition to several temple-related issues, Maheshwari also worked on matters such as the National Herald case — in which Swamy has made allegations of cheating and misappropriation of funds against Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who have denied the charges — and the 2014 death of Sunanda Pushkar, which led to Swamy waging a campaign and attempting to intervene in the case against her husband, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who was accused of abetting her suicide. A Delhi court acquitted Tharoor in 2021.
“I prepared a report on how IPC Section 409 [criminal breach of trust] was applicable in the National Herald case, based on which the case moved forward in that section. In the Ram Mandir case, my appearance is also marked in the Supreme Court, and in the Tirumala Devasthanam matter, too, I carried out legal research for Swamy. My big matters have been the ones under Swamy,” he said.
Swamy was a vocal advocate for the Ram temple in Ayodhya over many years. The Supreme Court finally set the stage for its construction in 2019.
The MP had also filed petitions on behalf of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) against a Telugu newspaper that had claimed in 2019 that the TTD had displayed a picture of Jesus Christ on its website.
Also read: Why Subramanian Swamy, Sadhguru want to ‘liberate’ Tirupati’s Lord Balaji from state control
‘Nationalist who wants to fulfil family dream of Krishna temple’
Maheshwari characterised himself as being on a mission to fulfil his great-grandmother’s dream of a Lord Krishna temple where the Shahi Idgah mosque currently stands in Mathura.
Contending that the mosque was built on Krishna janmasthan (Krishna’s birthplace), his PIL seeks a court-monitored excavation of the disputed structure by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), using ground-penetrating radar technology
Discussing what drove him to draft a PIL in the matter, Maheshwari said he is a Lord Krishna devotee and his maternal family’s roots are in Mathura.
“My great-grandmother would tell me what they had heard about the history of the Keshavdev temple, how it was razed by Aurangzeb and a mosque built. I regularly visited Mathura in my childhood, and I have mentioned this in my petition too. I was inquisitive to know why a masjid is here at a place where Krishna was born. My great-grandmother used to say that she would not be able to see the temple in her lifetime,” he said.
Asked about the politics going on over the issue — especially since UP BJP leader and former deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya remarked in December last year that while the construction of grand temples was underway in Kashi and Ayodhya, preparations were on for Mathura — Maheshwari says “nothing” has happened in Kashi so far.
“I think nothing has happened in Kashi. Nothing happens by merely constructing a flyover over the masjid,” he said, adding that Mathura is important to him because Lord Krishna was born there. “One can’t change one’s birthplace. As far as politics is concerned, I am a nationalist and will support the ones who work for the benefit of the nation,” he said.
When asked whether the controversy was likely to damage the social fabric of India, as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Kumar Jha has warned in Parliament, Maheshwari begged to differ. “No social fabric is being disturbed, social fabric is disturbed when opposite things happen. It’s a very common rule that you cannot satisfy everyone,” he told ThePrint.
The legal approach
Maheshwari is not the first person to take a legal route in connection with the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi matter.
Earlier, Lucknow resident Ranjana Agnihotri and seven others had filed a suit in the Mathura district court, demanding the removal of the mosque and that a court ruling, which had ratified a land deal between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Idgah Management Committee, be annulled.
The petition, which named UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, Shahi Masjid Idgah Trust, Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust and the related but now dormant Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan as defendants, was dismissed by a Mathura court in September 2020. The dismissal has been challenged in the court of the district and sessions judge, which is set to hear the matter on 22 March.
In January, the management trust committee of Shahi Idgah, which manages the mosque, had also moved an application in the district court, objecting to the admission of the appeal filed against the dismissal of the civil suit seeking ownership of the 13.37 acres of land.
Maheshwari said that while it was natural for the trust to object to the suit, the land should go to the “rightful owner”. He called for “course correction”.
“Yes, it (course correction) is required. I am a devotee of Lord Krishna and his teachings are very practical. There should be parity, similar to the case of Ayodhya. We don’t believe in violence, so we are taking the legal course,” he said.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
This article has been updated to reflect that Mehek Maheshwari’s petition is demanding that the Shahi Idgah Mosque be acquired by the government.
Also read: ‘If we don’t build temples, who will?’ UP minister wants to develop Mathura on PM’s Kashi model