Tension last felt after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 has revisited old Delhi with the discovery of the ruins of the 17th century Akbarabadi mosque. The ruins were discovered by the Delhi Metro authorities on July 6 while building a station.
The mosque was concealed under the mounds of Netaji Subhash Park for over two centuries. The British had razed it to the ground after recapturing Delhi and quelling the 1857 uprising.
Now, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is replaying the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi saga by claiming there was a temple at the site. Local MLA Shoaib Iqbal and Syed Ahmed Bukhari, imam of the Jama Masjid, are adding fuel to the fire.
After the discovery of the mosque, Iqbal wasted no time in capitalising on people’s sentiments and began ‘reconstruction’ of the mosque. Brick walls and minarets were built over the past two weeks. He even started offering Friday prayers at the site.
Bukhari kept quiet initially. But after the Delhi high court ordered suspension of the construction, he blamed Iqbal for acting in haste. “There is a proper procedure to reclaim the site and the mosque. This is a historic mosque. We had been demanding the excavation and restoration of this mosque — a symbol of the 1857 uprising — for years,” he told DNA.
Supporters of the local MLA, however, say Bukhari, who is fighting for space with the imam of Fatehpuri mosque, is unhappy to see yet another historic mosque near his citadel.
In a move aimed at defusing the tension, the authorities have handed over the site to archaeologists, but they have left the new structure untouched. There is heavy police bandobast in the area and barricades have been put up near the site.
Iqbal says that when pottery and other Mughal-era artefacts started coming up, he held negotiations with Delhi Metro chief Mango Singh with chief minister Sheila Dikshit as mediator and it was agreed to shift the metro station and hand over the site to Muslims. “Our forefathers instructed generations not to wander at Subhash Park with their footwear as a mark of respect to the mosque beneath. Everybody here believes in the existence of the mosque,” Iqbal said.
Noted Islamic scholar Akhtarul Wasey says Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, mentioned the mosque in his book Aasar-u-Sanadeed. He had even drawn a map of the mosque built by Akbarabadi Begum, one of Shah Jahan’s wives, in 1650. Since the mosque had become the headquarters of freedom fighters, the British razed it. Sir Syed managed to recover its plaque and took it with him to Aligarh, where it holds pride of place on a wall of the AMU’s main mosque, built as a replica of the Akbarabadi mosque.
Iqbal rues that successive governments have failed to honour freedom fighters from 1857 and preserve relics of that era. “It is not the question of this mosque only. Compare the condition of the descendants of Tipu Sultan and Bahadur Shah Zafar with those of the nizams of Hyderabad, the Scindias, the maharajas of Patiala and others who connived with the British during the War of Independence,” he said.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has said it will investigate and establish the exact identity of the ruins. But as the sun set on Monday and a cannon was fired at the historic Jama Masjid as a signal to people to break their Ramzan fast, Mohammad Yamin, a resident of Urdu Bazaar, said he had no faith in the ASI. “It [the mosque] is another Babri Masjid in the making,” he said. “It will get lost in court cases and in the vacillation of the ASI and promises of politicians.”