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In Mathura: 'Temple is Okay but What Has BJP Done For the Poor?'

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

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Camera :Athar Rather
Video Editor :Kriti Saxena

Monu Sharma, 19, juggles multiple jobs to make ends meet. A priest by the day and a daily-wage labourer by the evening, he also works at a sweet shop in Mathura — a city in western Uttar Pradesh, 183 km from Delhi.

This shop overlooks the famous Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple and Shahi Eidgah mosque complex, the site of a temple-mosque dispute akin to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case in Ayodhya and the Vishwanath Mandir-Gyanvapi Mosque dispute in Varanasi.

The consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on 22 January had ripple effect in Mathura and Varanasi as hardline Hindutva groups and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in both the cities toughened their decades-old demand of reclamation of these two sites.

In Mathura, the dispute involves Hindu side's claims that the centuries old Shahi Eidgah mosque, which currently stands adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple, was build on the temple's land. The main suit, hence, seeks removal of the mosque from its site.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

As Mathura goes to vote for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on 26 April, it set to witness a contest between incumbent MP Hema Malini of the BJP and Mukesh Dhangar of the Congress party.

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

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Sharma too, like many others in his city, was glued to the television screen as he watched Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurate the temple in Ayodhya. But the clamour around the mandir-masjid dispute and the demand to 'reclaim' the temple is lost on the 19-year-old.

"As the elections approached, Mandir (temple) was the first issue to come up. The (Ram) temple was built and inaugurated. People applauded (Narendra) Modi for it. But just go around Mathura and you'll see how there is shortage of water, the poor are struggling with high rates of grocery. Those who have money can go and eat at Brijwasi but please ask (PM) Modi, where will the poor go?" Sharma said.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

Monu Sharma, a 19-year-old resident of Mathura.

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

Brijwasi is one of Mathura's most popular chain of hotels. Sharma said it's his dream to be able to afford a meal or two at the restaurant.

As Mathura goes to vote for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on 26 April, it is set to witness a contest between incumbent MP Hema Malini of the BJP and Mukesh Dhangar of the Congress party. The Congress previously fielded boxer Vijender Singh, who later jumped ship to the BJP.

The Quint spoke to voters across the constituency about their hopes, aspirations, and concerns as the shadow of the temple-mosque dispute looms large over the region's politics.

'...Kashi Mathura Baaki Hai': The Ayodhya Impact

86-year-old Dr Zaheer Hasan spends most of his time reading the works of Kalidasa, Raskhan, Shakespeare, and others at his home on the outskirts of Mathura. Originally from Saharanpur, Hasan moved to Mathura as a child and instantly fell in love with the city.

"Mathura is a wonderful place...wonderful in many ways. The love of Radha and Krishna which is in Mathura's air, is also in the city's soil, its flowers, and in the hearts of its people," he said as nostalgia filled his heart.

Over the decades Hasan, a retired professor and President of the Shahi Eidgah Committee, has seen the many shades of the 'city of love'. "Brijwasis are peace-loving people. Those who create tensions are mostly the outsiders who come here and do politics over this issue. This is the city of love. And all I can smell here is the fragrance of love," he added.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

Dr Zaheer Hasan, President of the Shahi Eidgah Mosque Committee.

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

Hasan's idea of Mathura, however, rings hollow with Advocate Mahendra Pratap — one of the many petitioners seeking the removal of the Shahi Eidgah Mosque.

"The Muslim side never fulfilled their responsibilities of being a younger brother. They didn't settle any of the three disputes, Ayodhya, Benaras, or Mathura, outside the court. They fought each time. They didn't respect our faith in any of these cases," Pratap said.

Since 2020, one year after the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, at least 18 suits have filed in connection with the case in Mathura.

In 2020, Advocate Ranjana Agnihotri and others filed a suit challenging the 1968 compromise between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh and the Shahi Eidgah committee.

The agreement granted the temple land to the Trust and handed over the management of the Shahi Eidgah to the Eidgah committee. Additionally, it clarified that the Shree Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh had no legal claim on the Shahi Eidgah.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

Advocate Mahendra Pratap, one of the petitioners in Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Eidgah case.

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

Despite initial rejections, subsequent pleas were deemed 'maintainable.' In May 2023, the Allahabad High Court summoned the 18 related pleas that had accumulated for adjudication and brought the case back into focus.

On 14 December, the Allahabad High Court ordered a court-monitored survey of the Shahi Idgah mosque premises to assess the historical claims made by both sides. The order was stayed by the Supreme Court.

"With the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, people here in Mathura have started feeling restless. They want the Krishna Temple as soon as possible," Pratap said.

But unlike Ayodhya where the temple was built after demolition of the Babri Masjid, Mathura already has a temple.

The Hindu petitioners, including Pratap, however, lay claim to the entire complex and insist that the 'garbgriha' or the sanctum sanctorum of the ancient temple is buried below the Eidgah. "In your house, there is a specific place to eat, cook, sleep, and pray. You can't pray where you sleep or sleep where you pray. We want to reclaim our temple as a whole. And this process (of reclamation of temples) will not stop here," Pratap argued.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

A narrow lane that leads to the Shahi Eidgah.

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

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Inflation, Unemployment Remain Key Issues But...

Junma Devi, 79, sells religious books near the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple complex. She hasn't received her old age pension since 2022, and wants PM Modi to fix the scheme after being re-elected.

"Inflation is at an all-time high. Our pensions don't reach us. We want Modi to fix this," she said.

Despite her everyday struggles, Jumna is a staunch supporter of the temple movement. "Mandir bohot zaroori hai. Mandir banega toh rozgar milega, shaanti milegi (Mandir is an important issue for us. Once the temple is constructed, we will get more work, and most importantly, we will find peace)," she responded when asked the Temple was more important to her than her pension.

50-year-old Gaura Devi, a resident of Ranhera village, is also visibly dissatisfied with the work done by MP Hema Malini. Yet, she said her vote will go to BJP. "There's an acute shortage of water in our village. The cost of living has gone through the roof. But what option do we have? If we have to elect Modi again, we will have to vote for BJP," she told The Quint.

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Hindutva Push for Temple and Muslim Marginalisation

Manish Dawar, the National President of a right-wing Hindu organisation 'Shri Krishna Sena', runs thousands of WhatsApp groups dedicated to the cause of Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple. He, along with other members of his organisation, regularly conducts events to educate people about the issue.

"We are not asking them for their Masjids, Madrasas, or the Eidgah. We're only demanding the real birthplace of our God. Tomorrow if there is a situation in which, just like the karsevaks of Lord Ram, we also get the opportunity to perform karseva, and take to the streets, then people who follow Lord Krishna will come out on one single appeal. If they (Muslims) provoke us, we will destroy them completely," Dawar told The Quint.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

Mukesh Dawar of Shri Krishna Sena — a right-wing Hindu group advocating for the temple.

(Photo: Athar Rather/The Quint)

As elections near, several such groups have doubled down on their efforts to bring the mosque and the temple issue to the ballot. Muslims in Mathura, however, prefer to keep the case at an arm's length.

"My family used to run a hotel nearby called the Kale Hotel. It was shut down after the Yogi government came to power. At least 20-25 people who used to work at the hotel lost their livelihood," said Zayn Raza, now a scrap dealer.

Raza's hotel shut down after the UP government, in August 2021, banned he sale of meat, eggs, non-vegetarian products, and alcohol in 22 wards in Mathura.

Burhanuddin, a 25-year-old lawyer alleged that the ban disproportionately impacted livelihoods of Muslims in the area. "At least 22 wards in Mathura were marked by the administration. Meat trading and slaughterhouses were banned in these wards. Meat was only banned in Muslim areas. It being freely sold in meat shops in areas dominated by other communities," he claimed.

As Mathura goes to vote, locals weigh in on the Mandir-Masjid dispute, inflation, unemployment and other issues.

Burhanuddin, 25, is a lawyer. 

(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/The Quint)

When asked about the upcoming elections and the work done by BJP, Raza added, "Before the BJP government came in power, the Prime Minister of our country promised 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas'. What happened to that? There was no 'saath' and no 'vikas'."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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