Why Sangh's temple demolition protest is bad news for Raje
- Rajasthan demolishes Rojgareshwar, Kashtaharan temples.
- RSS says 73 temples razed to clear way for metro.
- Sangh-backed outfits launches protest, want temples restored.
- Row spells more trouble for embattled CM Vasundhara Raje.
- State agrees to rebuild Rojgareshwar temple elsewhere.
- Other heritage sites are also at risk; metro project under a cloud.
There seems to be no end to Vasundhara Raje's troubles. Bruised by the Lalit Modi saga, the Rajasthan Chief Minister is now confronted with the row over demolition of temples.
And this time, it's not her political opponents who are charging at her. But the RSS.
The Sangh is furious with the BJP government for tearing down the centuries-old temples of Rojgareshwar Mahadev and Kashtaharan Mahadev last month to clear way for Phase 1-B of Jaipur Metro.
Though the temple is being shifted to the Atish Market area, locals allege that rituals were not followed in the process of razing or shifting. They also complain that devotees protesting the demolition were treated harshly by the police.
The anger spilled on to the streets Thursday, bringing Jaipur to a grinding halt. Protesting members of RSS-affiliated outfits, convened under the umbrella of Mandir Bachao Sangharsh, Samiti disrupted traffic at as many as 71 locations for two hours, including at Choti Chaupar, where the temple stood.
The RSS wants a dozen temples restored. Rojgareshwar temple is not even up for discussion
The protesters demanded restoration of the temples at their original places and action against those involved in the demolition.
The RSS had come out in support of the Mandir Bachao Sangharsh Samiti on Wednesday. It had even appealed to social and commercial organisations in the city to support the agitation.
More worryingly for Raje though, several BJP legislators, including Narpat Singh Rajvi, Ghanshyam Tiwari and Surendra Pareek actively participated in the protest, as did former MLA Phoolchand Bhinda and former party spokesperson Kailash Nath Bhatt.
Articulating the reasons for the protest, the Samiti's convenor Bharat Sharma claimed the Raje regime has demolished 73 temples compared to 34 by the previous Congress government.
"It is wrong to raze the symbols of faith in the name of development. We will intensify our agitation if the government does not stop the demolition drive and restore the temples as per the rituals," Sharma warned.
It's an ominous warning considering the Sangh seems in no mood to give any quarter. Raje's ministers V Satish and Arun Chaturvedi had held several rounds of talks with Sangh leaders over three days to prevent the bickering in the Parivar from becoming a public spectacle. But the Sangh didn't budge.
It seems to have worked, too. According to sources, the government is ready to cede ground on Rojgareshwar Temple.
The RSS, however, wants restoration of a dozen temples. And at least four of these, including the Rojgareshwar temple, are not even up for discussion.
'Where were RSS leaders when ministers were approving temple demolitions?' asks Congress spokesman
The Congress, meanwhile, is out to exploit the situation to its benefit. The party held a dharna of its own against the Sangh-backed protest Wednesday.
The party's state chief Sachin Pilot says the RSS is just trying to mislead the people. "Precious heritage of Jaipur was mercilessly demolished in the name of the metro. The government demolished temples without the permission of the Archaeological department. Any monument which is 100 years old automatically comes under the protected list. Demolishing such memorials is contrary to law."
Party spokesman Pratap Singh Khachariya asked, "Where were RSS leaders when ministers were approving these demolitions?"
Heritage at risk
While they are protesting the demolition of Jaipur's temples, right-wing outfits seem hardly bothered about other heritage sites that are at risk - Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Isarlat and Chandpole Gate, all protected monuments that attract lakhs of tourists every year.
Already, there have been reports of damage to a heritage building called Uday Singh ki Haveli, though they have been refuted by the Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation, or JMRC.
Its chairman and managing director N C Goel has cited the environmental impact assessment report for the project which claimed that vibrations from construction activities would not harm any structure.
JMRC has assured the High Court that all possible measures are in place to prevent damage to heritage sites.
But not everyone is convinced. Some archaeologists argue that it is impossible to guarantee the protection of centuries-old buildings from underground construction.
Some activists have even claimed that the metro project violates archaeological laws which prohibit any digging or tunnelling work in the vicinity of heritage sites.
This presents a dilemma for Jaipur, arguably India's first planned city built in 1727. Its construction was overseen by the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who had a keen interest in architecture.
Industrialisation and population growth has left the city in dire need of a fast, clean system of mass transport. Not only to lessen the burden on its crumbling transport infrastructure, but to reduce the carbon imprint as well.
The metro was believed to be the solution. But it has run into an old wall.