How the Sangh Parivar's campaign for Mathura's Janmabhoomi evolved over the years
Historical roots and legal disputes of the Krishna Janmabhoomi dispute are complex, with the spotlight set to shift to Mathura after Ram temple's inauguration
On March 6, 1983, at its Muzaffarnagar convention, the Hindu Jagran Manch passed a resolution for the liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
In attendance were notable figures such as Dau Dayal Khanna, Gulzari Lal Nanda, Rajju Bhaiya, and Ashok Singhal. Subsequently, Khanna and Singhal visited Ayodhya, engaging with the late Ramchandra Paramhans of Digamber Akhara. This was followed by a meeting with 50 saints, leading to the formation of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti under the chairmanship of Mahant Avaidyanath, the guru of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The convenor of the convention, Khanna, had written a letter to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on May 23, 1983, highlighting the significance of the three temples for Hindus, which, he claimed, were “demolished to build mosques”. He demanded the unlocking of the Ayodhya shrine and the handing over of the Eidgah in Mathura and the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi to the temple trusts. The letter also asked the central government to construct alternative mosques at their own expense for the Muslims.
Similar letters were also sent to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on January 12, 1987, and late defence minister VP Singh on August 17, 1987. Before that, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) gave a call for a public movement for the liberation of the three purported janmabhoomis at their Dharam Sansad held in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan in April 1984, attended by 558 saints from 76 panths (sects). The VHP constituted in 1964, launched its first formal Rath Yatra in October 1985, demanding the unlocking of the disputed structure in Ayodhya.
Four decades later, the Ram temple in Ayodhya is ready for inauguration on January 22, 2024, a grand corridor in Kashi Vishwanath is already in place, and a batch of petitions asking for worshipping rights in the Gyanvapi Masjid are being heard in lower courts. Now the spotlight has shifted to Mathura.
Since the heydays of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, there has also been a perceptible shift in the Sangh Parivar’s plans, driven by the circumstances on the ground.
In Ayodhya, the battle was waged on the streets even before the case came to the Supreme Court. In Varanasi, a batch of Hindu petitioners have filed various cases in lower courts in Uttar Pradesh, attempting for a legal solution to the Gyanvapi Masjid dispute, even as the government revamped the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor.
In Mathura, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Krishna Janmabhoomi on November 23 has given a fillip to the movement. And there is a reason.
Modi is the first PM since Independence to visit the Krishna Janmabhoomi and its sanctum sanctorum. While BJP chief ministers such as Yogi Adityanath, Rajnath Singh and the late Kalyan Singh, and Congress chief minister, the late Vir Bahadur Singh, visited the Krishna Janmabhoomi, political dignitaries, including Presidents, have typically restricted their visits to the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan.
“Narendra Modi is the first prime minister to offer prayers at the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi. He had visited Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi 32 years ago but as organisational secretary of the BJP when he was in Vrindavan to attend ‘Pratinidhi Sabha’ meeting of RSS in 1991 and offered prayers at Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi,” said Gopeshwar Chaturvedi, who is associated with the Shri Krishna Seva Janmasthan.
PM Modi has visited Mathura four times – in 2015 to present his first-year report card at the Deendayal Upadhyaya Dham at Farah in Mathura and three times to address election rallies.
According to Chaturvedi, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had come to Krishna Janmbhoomi in the 1970s and stayed there, but never came when he was PM.
In his speech, Modi said, “Kashi Vishwanath corridor has come up in Varanasi, Mahakaal Temple in Ujjain is sporting a new look, Kedar Ghati is a new attraction while the Ram Temple is to be inaugurated shortly. Mathura will also not lag behind and the day is not far when people will have divya (magnificent) darshan of Lord Krishna in Mathura.”
Advocate Mahendra Kumar Singh – who is not only the first litigant to revive the court cases in the Mathura dispute but is also the president of the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Nyas – is heartened by this. “The PM has given his stamp of approval to our andolan (protest),” he said.
Asked if he had any discussions with the chief minister, he first remained silent. Later, he said, “Of the 13.37 acre land with the temple trust. 2.5 acres – which is a part of the sanctum sanctorum – is with the Muslims. That’s where the masjid stands. We must get it liberated.”
“We will expedite the court case in the high court or Supreme Court to claim the land,” he added.
Pilgrim footfall remains high. Data says about 2.5 million people visited the spot during the 10-day-long Guru Purnima while on other special days, the daily number varies between 100,000 and 200,000.
The Mathura plea was originally filed in the court of Mathura civil judge (senior division) on September 25, 2020, by Lucknow-based lawyer, Ranjana Agnihotri, and six others as the “next friend” of Bhagwan Shri Krishna Virajman, the presiding deity at the Mathura temple. The next friend is a legal representative of someone incapable of maintaining a suit directly.
The suit claimed that Shahi Eidgah Masjid was constructed on a part of 13.37 acres of land belonging to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust. They demanded the mosque, which abuts the temple, be removed and the land returned to the trust.
The religious dispute simmered in the first half of the 20th century but a 1968 agreement calmed tempers. On October 12, 1968, an agreement was signed between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Masjid Idgah Trust, which divided the land between the two parties and relinquished any claims of the Hindu parties to the land of the mosque.
But Agnihotri’s petition challenged the settlement and alleged that the pact had no legal validity because the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust, which the petitioners claimed had the ownership and title of the land, was not party to the settlement.
The Hindu petitioners also claimed that Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan, which is the governing body of the temple complex, entered into an illegal compromise with the Shahi Idgah trust with a view to grab the property in question.
“The Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan is working against the interest of the deity and devotees and fraudulently entered into a compromise with the Committee of Management of Trust Masjid Idgah (Trust) in 1968 conceding a considerable portion of property belonging to the deity and the trust,” the suit alleged.
The management committee of Shahi Eidgah mosque objected to the petition, arguing that as the compromise agreement was finalised in 1968 and the final judgement and decree of the case was passed in 1974, Agnihotri’s petition was time-barred.
“We pay the taxes and revenue. Muslims should voluntarily give away their claim for an amicable solution,” said Chaturvedi.
Tanveer Ahmed, secretary of the Shahi Masjid Idgah in Mathura, had told HT earlier, “There is no dispute. We perform namaz five times. Eid namaz and Juma namaz happen here. Access to the Eidgah and Janmabhoomi are separate. In 1968, a compromise was entered through a registered agreement and since then no dispute prevails.” Repeated calls to him were not answered.
The compromise entered in 1968 and the court decree in 1971 is the major defence of Muslims contesting the case. They also contend the suit is not maintainable as per the Places of Worship ( Special Provision) Act 1991, which locks the religious character of holy sites (with the exception of the Ayodhya case), as they existed at the time of independence.
Now, the question arises: What will the plan be for Mathura? The top authorities are likely to take a call.