The Idgah Maidan controversy in Karnataka


Citizens for Democracy, Karnataka (CFD-K), has just published a Report titled The Controversy regarding the Raising of National Flag in the Idgah Maidan. The Report is written by Dr Sanjeev Kulkarni but is a collaborative effort of citizens from all walks of life, such as S.R. Hiremath, a scientist-turned-social worker, John Bellary, a teacher, Basava Prabhu Hoskeri, a lawyer, R.A. Nagamule, an engineer, Dr A.M. Jamadar, a doctor, and several others. It is written in Kannada and an English version is being prepared.

I, as a citizen of Hubli–Dharwad, am concerned that their findings are placed before the national press in view of the extensive coverage that the event has received this year as well of the escalating violence that has been accompanying it. But the responsibility for the phrasing of the following text as well as for the tone of rendering is entirely mine. Remarks within brackets are also mine.

There are two separate facets to the Idgah Maidan controversy. The first relates to the question of the ownership of the Maidan, the second to the issue of hoisting the national flag on the Maidan. The two issues have to be understood separately if the whole sorry episode is to make sense.

The Issue of Ownership
The Idgah Maidan is an open plot of land of about 991 sq. yds (CTS No. 174 in Ward no. 3) near the main bus stop in Hubli.

The Muslim community of Hubli claims that the Idgah Maidan has been in their exclusive possession for over two hundred years and that the prayer halls there are at least that old. This claim has been contested by other parties.

The basic facts of the case are as follows:

The Hubli Municipality was formed in 1920. On 5 August 1921, the Municipality passed a resolution granting the Maidan on lease for 999 years to the Anjuman-e-Islam organization, for an annual rent of Rupee one.  (Among other provisions, it permitted the Anjuman to build a compound wall around the property, which in fact was never built.) This grant was approved by the government of Bombay on 11 January 1922, and the lease deed was signed in May 1930.

In 1960, when the Municipal borough was under suppression, the Anjuman sought the permission of the government administrator to build a building on the Maidan, the ground floor of which would be used for commercial purposes and the upper floors for an educational institution. This plan was approved by the Divisional Commissioner in Belgaum as well as by the then Mysore government. This is when the trouble started. The approval by the government of the plan proposed by the Anjuman was challenged by some citizens in the court of law.

I shall skip the tedious details. The decision delivered by the Court of the Munsiff in Hubli on 7 December 1972 went against the Anjuman-e-Islam. On appeal, the Additional Civil Judge upheld a part of the verdict of the Munsiff Court. On further appeal, the High Court of Karnataka, on 8 June 1992, upheld the judgment of the Additional Civil Judge. The judgment of the High Court may be summarized as follows:
The Idgah Maidan is not the exclusive property of the Anjuman-e-Islam but belongs to what was by then the Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation.
The Maidan was licensed to the Anjuman for purely religious purposes, that is, to offer prayers on two days in the years, the Bakrid and the Ramzaan.
The Anjuman may not use the property for any educational or commercial purpose.
The permanent structures already erected by the Anjuman may be demolished within 45 days.
The public (inclusive of the Muslim community) has no customary rights of the user on the property.

Following this judgment, the Anjuman made a Special Leave Petition to the Supreme Court to appeal against the above judgment and sought a stay order against the demolition of the permanent structures. The stay was granted.

Members of the Sangh Parivar also appealed to the Supreme Court seeking restoration of customary rights to the public. After condonation of delay, petition was allowed by the Supreme Court on 19 April 1993. (This part is generally not known.)

What the Anjuman underlines is that from the beginning (in 1920), it has sought and received sanction from the requisite legal authority for every one of its actions. It has been scrupulous in remaining on the right side of the law.

The National Flag Issue
According to the statement made by the Rashtradhvaja Gowrava Samrakshana Samiti (The Committee for Protecting the Honour of the National Flag) to the Citizens for Democracy, Karnataka, when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi declared that he would hoist the national flag in the Lal Chowk of Srinagar on 26 January 1992 as a part of the ‘Save Kashmir’ campaign, it was decided to hold similar functions all over India. In Hubli, neither the Nehru Maidan nor the Murusavira Matha Maidan was available. So the Samiti decided to hoist the flag on the ‘Chennamma Maidan’ of the Corporation (the Sangh Parivar’s special name for the Idgah Maidan). When they approached the police, the latter tried to dissuade them. But a group of about fifty volunteers decided to go ahead with their plan, regardless. According to them, as they were raising the flag the police rushed in and pulled the flag down in an insulting manner, which wounded their patriotic sentiments. Since, in independent India, a citizen has the right to fly the national flag at any place, they vowed to persist until they had succeeded in flying the flag in the Maidan. They wrote to all the political parties seeking support but only the BJP responded.

Two main points need to be noted here:

The incident took place on 26 January 1992, when the case was still being considered by the High Court, and was therefore sub judice. The RGSS could not have been unaware of this fact.

Secondly, as is clear from the above description, the dispute is between the RGSS and the police and therefore does not involve the Anjuman-e-Islam.


Since then, on every 15 August and 26 January, the RGSS in association with the RSS and the BJP has attempted to fly the flag on the Idgah Maidan. This year the BJP gave the event full support and treated it as an event of national importance by sending its leaders, like Uma Bharati, Sikander Bakht and Abbas Ali Bohra, to participate in the event.

How lawful are these subsequent attempts?

Apart from the fact that the High Court has quite explicitly not conceded the customary rights of the user to the public and this has been challenged in the Supreme Court by the Sangh Parivar itself, before every 15 August and 26 January, a certain Devendra Naik has been approaching the Munsiff Court in Hubli for permission to hoist the flag and has been refused permission.

In August 1993, several members of the RGSS approached the High Court of Karnataka for permission to fly the flag and the High Court left the decision to the government.

Neither the RGSS, nor the RSS or the BJP, is party to any of the lawsuits, preferring to fight them through individuals. (This enables them to claim victory when the verdict is in their favour and pretend ignorance when it is not.)   

The Anjuman-e-Islam has refused to comment (or act) on the flag issue and has remained absolutely silent. The controversy thus involves only the RGSS and the state government and not the Anjuman.

(I must here point out that the impression created in the press that the Muslim community is refusing to raise the flag on the Idgah Maidan because it does not want the national flag to fly on their prayer ground is totally baseless. It is another instance of the deliberate disinformation that surrounds the issue. No question of flying the national flag on the Idgah Maidan had arisen until the problem was manufactured by the Sangh Parivar. The Muslim community sees no reasons to be pressurized into doing so now by parties obviously out to embarrass or harass them. The communal intent of the Sangh Parivar’s endeavour is clear in their insistence on calling the place ‘Chennamma Maidan’ after the statue of Queen Kittur Chennamma installed recently in the traffic circle nearby, rather than by its official name, ‘Idgah Maidan’, although the latter is used by them, inevitably, in all court documents.)

The Future
The absolute refusal of the Muslim community to comment on the flag has foiled the hopes of the Sangh Parivar of communalizing the issue. That the debate is now only between the Sangh Parivar and the state government is not of any obvious advantage to the former. So they have now started saying that they do not care who flies the flag as long as it is flown.

(What political advantage the Parivar will try to gain from the unfortunate police firing on 15 August, in which six bystanders were killed, remains to be seen. It is significant that the ABVP leaders were demanding that the six bodies be cremated on the Idgah Maidan itself.)

The Karnataka state elections are scheduled for November 1994. The BJP is perfectly aware that, if elected to power, its government will not be able to fly the flag on the Idgah Maidan without being guilty of contempt of court. They have therefore been declaring that the attempt on 15 August 1994 would be the last such attempt.

The Solution
The RGSS and its allies have always been claiming that their wish is to see the national flag fly on the Idgah Maidan properly just once.

On the morning of 15 August 1994, the Sangh Parivar claimed that they had succeeded in hoisting the flag on the Idgah Maidan, unseen by the police; whatever the veracity of this claim, now that they have done so to their own satisfaction, it is to be hoped there will be no further repetition of this unfortunate event, which has turned the two national days into sheer nightmares for the citizens of Hubli-Dharwad.

Additional Points by Girish Karnad

The Anjuman-e-Islam is an educational institution founded in 1905. It runs several schools, colleges and educational institutions. Only a third of its students are Muslim, the rest being mainly from the backward classes. It has a college named after Nehru. On every 15 August and 26 January, the national flag is flown and the national anthem sung at all Anjuman institutions (which is more than can be said about the RSS!).

Will the solution of the flag issue make life easier for the Muslims of Hubli–Dharwad?

Since 1984, the Muslim community has stopped celebrating Mohurrum as it invariably led to trouble. (In my childhood, Hindus also participated in the Mohurrum celebration.)

Several times in the past, and again this year, the massive procession on the day of the Id-Milad has been cancelled for fear of disturbances. Playing of music and bursting of crackers at weddings have been stopped by the Muslim community.

Next to the Idgah Maidan is the Dargah of a Sufi saint, Raja Bagh Sawar, which used to attract both Hindu and Muslim devotees. This Muslim shrine, which traditionally has had Hindu priests, has now been converted into a Hindu shrine. The saffron flag flies on it. The Urs of the saint is now referred to as the Jatra of Changed Maharaja. When the Muslims registered a complaint with the police, they were asked to remain calm; the issue, they were told, would be sorted out by the authorities. Of course nothing has been done so far. On the contrary, the converted shrine was quoted to bolster the case against the Anjuman in court documents.

The Muslim community allowed a highway to be built through their graveyard. But when, in order to protect their graves, they began to build a compound wall, a stay order was brought against the construction of the wall, thus preventing them from enclosing their own exclusive property.

The flag-hoisting issue is only one example of the harassment and baiting to which the Muslim community in Karnataka has been continually subjected during the last two decades.

Statement by Girish Karnad