It’s part of a well-thought-out strategy to keep communal pot boiling
By Abdul Bari Masoud
Radical Hindutva organisations, it appears, have a pattern and well-thought-out strategy for bringing up communal matters periodically with the government’s tacit backing in order to maintain a raging communal fire in the country.
However, the Karnataka High Court’s decision not to order mosques in the state to stop playing Azan over loudspeakers should stop these groups from making a big deal out of this trivial issue.
On August 22, the Karnataka High Court declined to force mosques to stop playing the Azan on loudspeakers and stated that doing so does not infringe individuals of other faiths’ fundamental rights. The Court’s ruling is a significant observation that could have rippling effects in many states where such demands have been made by Hindutva radical elements.
Notably, the division bench led by Acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe instructed the authorities to execute the “Noise Pollution Rules” pertaining to loudspeakers and to submit a compliance report.
In response to a public interest litigation (PIL) brought by Manjunath S. Halawar, a resident of Bengaluru and supporter of the BJP, the court issued its ruling.
In its observation, the Karnataka High Court bench said, “Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India embodies the principle of toleration which is the characteristic of Indian civilization. Article 25(1) of the constitution confers the fundamental rights on persons to freely profess, practise and propagate their own religion.”
It further stated, “However, the aforesaid right is not an absolute right but is subject to the restrictions on the grounds of public order, morality, health as well as subject to other provisions in Part III of the Constitution of India.”
The division bench made a noteworthy observation, stating that the “contention that the contents of Azan violate the fundamental right guaranteed to the petitioner as well the persons of other faith cannot be accepted.”
The petitioner had argued that “calling for azan/adhan is an essential religious practice of Muslims, however the contents of the azan/adhan are hurting the believers of other religious states.”
It is to mention that earlier, in 2021, the Karnataka High Court had banned the use of loudspeakers in religious places from 10 PM to 6 AM.
After the court order, the Karnataka government ordered that all users of loudspeakers or public address systems should obtain written permission from the designated authority within 15 days that caused a huge controversy as Bengaluru municipal police started confiscating microphones from houses of worship that allegedly disobeyed court orders on noise pollution.
Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the radical Hindutva group Sri Rama Sene known for its violent acts, demanded that the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government should remove loudspeakers from mosques because they contribute to noise pollution.
Police have begun issuing warnings to mosques in Karnataka to keep the volume of their loudspeakers within legal limits.
According to a source, 250 mosques in Bangalore alone have gotten such notifications, and the mosque officials have begun installing equipment to keep the noise level within acceptable limits.
When only Muslim places of worship targeted, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai came under fire. In response, he clarified that the government only intended to carry out the High Court’s directives regarding the use of loudspeakers in mosques. He said that this would be accomplished by keeping the public in the loop.
Attacking the CM Bommai, former chief minister and leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly Siddaramaiah said the Chief Minister was “so weak” that he was unable to take action against those who are causing disturbances in society.
Siddaramaiah said, with the Assembly elections nearing, the BJP is manipulating our society with communal issues for its political gains, adding, “This will backfire BJP in the coming days.”
It is unfortunate that anti-social elements are disturbing peace and creating tensions in the State, he said. Does the “silence” of the Chief Minister indicate his support or his inability to tackle the issue?
It is important to bring order to the State for overall progress. “If the Chief Minister has real concerns for our people, he should resign and go home before everything goes down,” Siddaramaiah said. “His failure is hurting people.”
For a long period, churches, mosques, and temples all had speakers installed. What harm has it done to people up to this point? In reference to the heated argument over “Azan,” the Congress leader said.
Concurring with his views, former union minister K Rahman Khan said the Bommai government wants to hide its all-round failures by giving free hand to communal forces. Speaking with Radiance, Khan accused the government of harassing mosque management committees by filing unmanned FIRs. He pointed out that last year’s High Court order was for all religious places of worship but only mosques are being targeted.
Karnataka has been in the spotlight for several months as Hindutva groups wage campaign after campaign against the state’s minorities.
After the prohibition on Muslim traders, and the Halal meat controversies, now they launched a campaign against mosques using loudspeakers during prayers.
However, Bommai remained confident throughout all of this that his administration would prioritise good governance. He claimed that making statements wouldn’t fix the problem.
“And the problems that have emerged are not brand-new. Some are based on court orders; some are based on orders from 2001 or 2002. No fresh orders have been issued by us,” Bommai stated.
Interestingly, Maharashtra saw the start of an “anti-loudspeakers” protest by the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
On April 2, Raj Thackeray had demanded that the use of loudspeakers at mosques should be halted.
In Mumbai, he had stated, “If this is not stopped, speakers outside mosques would play Hanuman Chalisa at a louder volume.”
Unlike the Karnataka government, the then Mahavikas Aghadi government-led by Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra had deftly foiled his cousin’s attempt to soil communal peace in the state.
Another BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh also boasted of removing ‘illegal’ loudspeakers from religious places across the state. The UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, known for his unabashed communal mindset, said that public address systems can be used at religious places with permission but the sound must not come out of the premises.
What regulations prohibit the use of loudspeakers?
The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 state that using loudspeakers or public address systems is prohibited unless “after obtaining written permission from the authority” and that they may not be used between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. only inside closed facilities such as auditoriums, conference rooms, community halls, and banquet halls.
Azan is the Islamic call to prayers which is given five times at prescribed times of the day. And now Karnataka High Court pronounced that the loudspeaker Azan does not infringe on the fundamental rights of those who practise other religions.
“The controversy surrounding Azan on loudspeaker is part of the right-wing agenda to keep the communal tantrum going. The saffron goons act with full impunity. In several incidents, the law and order machineries have been found to be soft on them. Besides, the government machinery, the media outlets too love to portray the religious zealots as heroes. In fact, the purpose is to curtail, if not wholly erase, expressions of Muslims in public life,” noted media analyst Quamar Ashraf told Radiance.
According to the former BBC journalist Qurban Ali, it is a well-planned tactic by communal forces to establish a wage between the two largest religious groups in the country and to assert their “majoritarian supremacy”. This trend is not new, but it gathered speed after the 1980s and has already reached its peak since, under the first-past-the-post electoral system, just 30 to 40 per cent of votes are needed to win an election. As a result, these forces are developing a strategy, he told Radiance.
“Communalism no longer remains a matter of concern. In fact, the entire polity is apparently driven by communalism. The right-wing groups have set a calendar for raising one issue or the other on a weekly basis. Of course, without the media it would not be possible. In fact, communalism is a shield to the current dispensations at the Centre and states as it helps them deflect people’s attention from the pressing issues related to their day-to-day life,” Asharf said.
Countering these forces needs to be a wise and cool strategy, as suggested by senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Engineer Mohammad Salim. It shows the failure of their ideology and their ideological government that force them to take refuge in communal and emotive issues which are least concerned with public cause, he said.
Khan, who hails from Bangalore and also a former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, also held the same view that emotional issues cannot be countered with emotions; it is just like playing into the hands of communal forces.