Lucknow's snazzy new LuLu Mall has turned into a site of communal controversy in as less as 10 days since its inauguration by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The LuLu Group has always made headlines for being perceived to have the political backing of not just CM Yogi, but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had graced inauguration ceremonies of several projects of the United Arab Emirates-based firm. The mall, a project of the UAE-based LuLu group, has invested Rs 2,500 crore in Uttar Pradesh for several developmental projects.
However, days after it was inaugurated, furore arose after a video of several people offering namaz in the mall premises went viral. Hindutva groups soon staged protests, sought recital of Hanuman Chalisa in the mall premises, and accused authorities of resorting to 'love jihad.' The mall authorities have released two statements refuting the claims, with CM Yogi warning against 'spoiling the atmosphere' over the matter.
From the virality of the video to the arrests of the people in the video on Tuesday, here's a timeline of the controversy:
14 July: Video of Namaz Being Offered at Mall Goes Viral, FIR Filed, Allegations of 'Love Jihad'
The controversy began on Thursday, 14 July, after a purported video showing some persons offering namaz inside LuLu Mall's premises was widely circulated on social media.
Based on a complaint registered by management of the mall, an FIR was registered against the unidentified people who are seen offering namaz in the purported video.
The UP Police booked the accused persons under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code:
Section 295A (deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class)
Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion)
Section 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint)
Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief)
Further, right-wing group Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha staged a protest outside the mall. Members of the group also sought permission from the local authorities to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside the mall on Friday.
"People from a particular community are being allowed to offer namaz inside the mall. The mall authorities should also allow Hindus and people for other communities to offer prayers," Sishir Charturvedi, who identified himself as the national spokesperson of the Mahasabha, told news agency PTI.
The Hindu Mahasabha also said that it would hold a 'Sunder Kaand paath' in protest.
Later, Chaturvedi, along with Mahasabha members, filed a police complaint, stating, "Namaz was offered inside the Mall which is against the state government's decision of not allowing namaz in public places."
The complaint alleged that 70 percent of the mall staff are men from the Muslim community while the rest 30 percent are women from Hindu community. "By doing so they are practising love Jihad," the complaint added demanding an investigation into the matter.
15 July: Mall Puts Up Notices Prohibiting Prayers
Notices declaring "No religious prayers will be permitted inside the mall" were put up at several points inside the premises of the shopping complex on Friday.
The general manager of the mall in Lucknow, Sameer Verma, released a video statement saying, "Lulu Mall respects all religions. Any kind of religious work or prayer is not permitted here. We train our floor staff and security staff to keep an eye on such activities."
Further, security was tightened around the mall amid protests by various Hindutva outfits. Permission sought be these groups to recite Hanuman Chalisa inside the mall was declined.
Members of religious groups were not permitted to enter the mall by the police.
16 July: Two Youths Recite Hanuman Chalisa at Mall, Get Arrested
The furore escalated on Saturday as two youths recited Hanuman Chalisa at the mall on Saturday. A video showed the youths chanting the hymn while sitting right below a mall notice forbidding religious prayers.
The two violators were subsequently arrested by the police.
Shortly after the duo were held, members of a right-wing group tried to enter the mall. At least 15 members of the outfit were detained by police and released with a warning not to create a ruckus.
17 July: LuLu Mall Slams Claims of Religious Discrimination, Says '80% Staff Hindu'
Mall authorities on Sunday issued a statement asserting that over 80 percent of the mall staff is Hindu.
"Our employees are hired on the basis of skills and merit, and not based on the caste, class, or religion," the statement signed by Regional Manager of LuLu Mall Jaykumar Gangadhar noted.
"It is very saddening that some elements with selfish interests are attempting to target our establishment," the statement further said.
18 July: CM Adityanath Condemns Politics Over Mall, Asks Lucknow Admin To 'Take Matter Seriously'
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Monday directed the Lucknow authorities to take serious cognisance of the row surrounding the LuLu mall.
“The LuLu mall that is carrying out business activities has been turned into a political hotbed. Unnecessary statements are being made by certain people. Demonstrations are being organised to obstruct the movement of the people visiting the mall," Adityanath stated.
“The Lucknow administration should take the matter seriously. Any such act should not be tolerated. The miscreants trying to spoil the atmosphere in the mall should be dealt with strictly,” he said.
The CM also said that there will be no religious events on the streets and public places.
19 July: 4 Arrested Over 'Namaz Video,' Religious Leader Arrives at LuLu for 'Shuddhikaran'
Four people were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police on Tuesday over a video of them allegedly offering namaz at Lucknow's LuLu Mall went viral on social media
The four people have been identified as Mohammed Rehan, Atif Khan, Mohd Lokman, and Mohd Noman, all residents of Lucknow's Indira Nagar area.
Further, a religious leader from Ayodhya, Paramhans Acharya, arrived at the mall on Tuesday with the intention to perform a 'shuddhikaran' (purification) ceremony.
He was taken into custody by the police.
More About LuLu Mall
The Lulu Mall is owned by Yusuf Ali MA, a business magnate of Indian origin who is the owner of UAE-based LuLu Group. Uttar Pradesh CM had inaugurated the mall on 10 July.
In June, PM Modi had attended an earlier launch ceremony of the project.
Located on the Lucknow-Sultanpur National Highway, the mall lies within Sushant Golf City with a total development of 1,85,800 square metres.
"The Mall will house over 300 national and international brands and will feature a 6000 sq. m. Family Entertainment Centre as well as a 1600 seater Food Court, with a wide range of dining options," its website reads.
The LuLu Group has an extensive expansion plan in India, with many more projects in the pipeline.