UP election: in Mathura, the owner of a Muslim Dosa cart changes his name

Aved Khan changed his company name from Srinath Dosa to American Dosa Corner


In the streets around a religious site in Mathura where a temple and a mosque sit side by side, the handful of remaining Muslim restaurants are mostly empty or closed.

A meat ban last year by Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, who issued the order on religious grounds, decimated their trade.

Now Yogi Adityanath, vying for re-election in major state polls next month, has turned his attention to the temple itself, suggesting he will champion the Hindu cause in a long-running dispute with Muslims over the owner of the site.

The issue has become a central part of the ruling party’s campaign to extend its grip on power in Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people and the beacon of national politics.

Hindus and Muslims have been arguing for decades over who should control the site, echoing other disputes in India that have sometimes escalated into deadly riots between the two communities.


Shahi Eidgah Mosque and Krishna Temple are seen side by side in Mathura

Mention of the Mathura conflict at campaign rallies and on social media worries Muslims in the city, according to interviews with more than 20 residents.

“An old case that has been settled…is being revived because we have a new triumphalist Hinduism,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of several books on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“There is a greater emphasis on playing the temple card.”

Opinion polls suggest the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to which Yogi Adityanath belongs, will win the vote in Uttar Pradesh, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the economy and the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The chief minister, seen by some analysts as a potential successor to Prime Minister Modi, voted “80% to 20%”, figures he did not fully explain. The percentages closely match the Hindu and Muslim share of the population across the state.

Yogi Adityanath’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the situation in Mathura.

‘Nothing to fear’

The BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh on a Hindu-first platform in 2017 and did not field a single Muslim candidate.

The victory reflects the party’s dominance domestically since Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014 after appealing to the Hindu majority.

The main opposition Congress party complains that by prioritizing Hindus, it and the BJP discriminate against minorities and risk stoking violence. Prime Minister Modi has defended his record and says his economic and social policies benefit all Indians.

Jamal Siddiqui, head of the BJP’s Minorities Committee, said the party was working to increase the number of minority candidates in Uttar Pradesh and the other four states heading to the polls next month.

“I hope the minority community will participate in both the elections and the government,” he told Reuters. “The Modi government has protected religious sites for all religions. Now, instead of being afraid of saffron, Muslims are coming together.”

Suspicion of the BJP among Muslims in Mathura has been caused by misleading claims by opposition parties, Mr Siddiqui added.

‘No compromise’

Among the holiest cities in Hinduism, Mathura is considered the birthplace of Krishna.

A temple on the reputed site of his birth was razed and replaced with a mosque, known as Shahi Eidgah, in the 17th century under the Mughal Empire. A temple complex built in the 1950s now backs onto the mosque.

An agreement was brokered in 1968 to settle the use of the land, and the two structures stood like “two sisters” until legal action to demolish the mosque began in 2020, said Z Hassan, president of the trust that runs the Eidgah.

“I’ve been here for 55 years. I haven’t felt any tension between Hindus and Muslims,” ​​he said. “It’s only been in recent years that this idea has come up that there are two communities.”

The case, brought in local court by several priests, claims the 1968 agreement was fraudulent.

“This land is very important to us,” said Vishnu Jain, the claimants’ lawyer. “I don’t believe in any type of dialogue. There is only one compromise that can happen that they will be out of this property.”

Both parties expect the case to last for years.

The local dispute was taken up by Yogi Adityanath and several other BJP leaders during the campaign.

He told a rally last month that work to build a temple in Mathura, modeled on a similar development in Ayodhya, was “underway”, without giving further details.


A bicycle passes by the ongoing construction of a temple entrance in Mathura

Ayodhya was the scene of communal violence in 1992 and 1993 in which hundreds died after a mob demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid which many Hindus claimed was the birthplace of Lord Rama.

A court ruling allowing the construction of a temple on the site of the Babri Masjid was a major issue in the 2019 election campaign when the BJP increased its majority.

“The land is ours”

Many Hindu residents of Mathura support the mosque’s land reclamation projects.

“The land is ours and should be returned to us,” said Bipin Goswami, a 19-year-old with a face smeared in saffron with sandalwood paste.

Local authorities mobilized thousands of security personnel in December after fringe Hindu groups announced an attempt to place a statue of Krishna inside the mosque on the anniversary of the destruction of Babri Masjid.

The attempt failed, but at the mosque, which has been surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers since the early 1990s, police now check the identity cards of everyone who enters the complex.

Aved Khan, a 30-year-old Muslim who owns a food cart in Mathura, said he changed the name of his business from Srinath Dosa to American Dosa Corner after a group of men asked him to stop shopping. to use a Hindu name.

“You are a Muslim, how can you bear that name? one of the men asked as they smashed the booth signs, according to a police report on the August incident.

Rajesh Mani Tripathi, national chairman of Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Mukti Dal – a radical Hindu group which was also behind the attempt to install the statue – told Reuters he was one of the men involved in the ‘altercation.

“If he was a Muslim, he should write his name on the banner and not mislead people by mentioning a Hindu name,” he said.

Muslims in Mathura have also complained about Yogi Adityanath’s decision in September to ban meat within a 3 km radius of the temple.

At the empty Royal Restaurant, one of the few in the area remaining open, it’s cooking up traditional lamb skewers and soy chicken tikka.

“Before the BJP, there was no tension here,” said Sajid Anwar, standing outside his closed Labbaik restaurant.

Mr Anwar said there was no demand for vegetarian food among Muslims. It awaits the results of the elections before deciding to close permanently.

“If Yogi comes back, I will have to find another job.”