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What was the Commissioner of Varanasi Doing at the Midnight Puja inside Gyanvapi Masjid?

  • February 10, 2024
  • 4 min read
What was the Commissioner of Varanasi Doing at the Midnight Puja inside Gyanvapi Masjid?

What was Commissioner of Varanasi Kaushal Raj Sharma doing at the Gyanvapi Masjid on the night of January 31, 2024, while the administration hurriedly organised and conducted a puja within the southern cellar of the structure ? This question has started doing the rounds in various parts of Uttar Pradesh following the circulation of a shocking picture from Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The picture shows a group of people including Sharma sitting in a ritualistic atmosphere, evidently engrossed in participating in the ceremonies. The murmur that has developed over this picture, including in WhatsApp groups associated to a number of Hindutva outfits as well as sections of the security agencies, is that this was of the puja that was conducted on the night of January 31.

Commissioner of Police, Ashok Mutha Jain speaking to media

The AIDEM has cross-checked on the veracity of this claim from diverse sources, including from those who were part of the official team that was present at the venue during the puja. A number of these “eye witnesses” (who did not wish to be named) have confirmed that Kaushal Raj Sharma played a prime role in organising and conducting the midnight puja at Varanasi. Others who were present at the premises during the puja, the eyewitnesses stated, included the Varanasi District Magistrate (DM) S.Rajalingam, Commissioner of police Ashok Mutha Jain, Sunil Verma, former CEO Vishwanath Mandir, as well as its present CEO Mandir Mishra. A sizable number of security personnel including CRPF personnel were also present in the premises on the night of January 31.

A video, again shot by some of the witnesses, after the completion of the puja, shows authorities, including the DM asserting that “court order has been complied with“. In the video, the authorities do not categorically state that the puja has been carried out. There is also no direct response to repeated queries whether puja would continue to happen as regular practice within the masjid premises. The singular response to all queries is that  “court order has been complied with“. 

The picture and the video have given rise to other pointed queries too among “ believers“ and observers in different parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The single most important question is whether the Commissioner and the other authorities present were qualified to carry out a ritual such as a puja, especially in the background of a court order that was certainly bound to be challenged in higher courts. The AIDEM sought to get in touch with the authorities including the Commissioner and the DM to get a response to the projections based on the picture, but were not available. 

Significantly, the administration had moved into the Gyanvapi mosque premises and broken the barricade around it in less than 8 hours after the Varanasi District Court ordered, on January 31, that Hindu prayers can be held within the premises. This was indeed a strange action given the fact that any court has to be carried out following due process and after making proper arrangements. The court had stipulated a period of 7 days to carry out its order. The hurry on the part of the administration, was evaluated by several observers, as undue and unwarranted hurry to advance yet another aggressive Hindutva political project.

The social media chatter around the discovery of the puja picture has it that Sharma was making an earnest attempt to replicate the example set by Modi during the consecration of the new Ayodhya Ram Mandir. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who became the principal “ritual advancer” during the Ram Mandir consecration, totally sidelining the conventional Pujaris and other religious leaders, including heads of big Hindu outfits, including the Sankaracharyas. The trustees and leadership of the Anjuman Intazamiya Masajid, the organisation that looks after the functioning of the Gyanvapi masjid were also not available for comment on the photo and video doing the rounds.


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About Author

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan is the CMD and Managing Editor of The AIDEM. A Delhi based political journalist with four decades of experience.

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Manish Raju
Manish Raju
17 days ago

There’s a new normal in India these days . The total lack of of shame in the bureaucracy after doing a blatantly unconstitutional action shows this clearly . Will the opposition parties take this up and bring the guilty to book ?

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