NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 23

Politics and construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad

In Pakistan, religion has always played a significant role in shaping politics, handling social, economic, cultural and educational issues, drafting internal and international (foreign) policies. It is also a fact that religion is not only used for unity but also for creating sectarian division, extremism, hatred and prejudice among the people.

It is a tool in the hands of politicians, religious leaders and pirs to exploit the people for protecting their partisan interests and the status quo. This time political parties, like the PML-Q, PML-N and JUI-F, along with other religious leaders and parties are using religion against the government for allowing the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. Interestingly, they did not react strongly against the construction of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur for the Sikh community.

Over 3,000 Hindus, including government employees, private sector employees, businesspeople and doctors, live in Islamabad. According to Hindu Panchayat President Mahesh Chaudhry, “A large number of people from various parts of the country, including Balochistan and Sindh, have shifted to Islamabad, mainly due to insecurity in their areas. Now when we have families here, there is a need for a crematorium, a place for collective prayers and marriage ceremonies. Currently, we hold Holi and Diwali functions in government’s community halls or marquees.”

Ramesh Lal, a parliamentarian on a reserved seat for minorities, first time raised the demand for the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. A parliamentary committee on human rights passed a resolution in July 2016 in the PML-N government. It directed the government for building a temple and a crematorium for the Hindus. But, the project could not start in the PML-N government.

Now, after the construction of a visa-free corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Imran Khan’s PTI government has announced construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already approved a grant of Rs100 million for the construction of the first temple in the capital. According to news reports, “the request for the grant of the amount was made to the Prime Minister by Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri during a meeting with him. The meeting was also attended by a delegation of MNAs belonging to religious minorities, including Lal Chand Malhi, Dr Ramesh Vankwani, Jai Prakash Ukrani, Shunila Ruth and James Thomas. The delegation sought the support of the government for the construction of the first temple in the capital.

To fulfil the demands and needs of the Hindus, Imran Khan approved funds for the construction of the Hindu temple. But, the construction has created a storm among many political and religious factions, which are adamant that they will not allow it in Islamabad.

Clerics belonging to the JUI-F, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Lal Masjid and those affiliated with other seminaries of the capital have already threatened the government with agitation and demanded it should seek advice from the Council of Islamic Ideology on the summary forwarded to the Prime Minister. Feeling the pressure, a spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs said: “The Prime Minister will decide on the funds for the construction of a place of worship for the minority population, taking into account all social and religious aspects”. The spokesman also said the government would seek guidance and advice from the Council of Islamic Ideology on the summary forwarded to the Prime Minister.

The spokesman also clarified that “the ministry does not release funds for the construction of minority places of worship; the Ministry of Religious Affairs repairs and renovates the places of worship belonging to the religious minorities.”

On the other hand, the PML-Q, a crucial ally of the government, has also opposed the construction of the temple in Islamabad. “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. The construction of a new temple in its capital is not only against the spirit of Islam, but also an insult to the idea of Riayasat-e-Madina,” Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said in a statement.

Interestingly, the PML-N, which took the initiative in its government, is now opposing the construction just for gaining political advantage.

Analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais writes in the Arab News, “Will Khan stand his ground against the objectors on this issue? Only time will tell. Under pressure, he has already decided to refer the matter for advice to the Council of Islamic Ideology, a government funded agency, and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has stopped the construction of a boundary wall on the pretext that the building plans have yet to be approved. The Hindu panchayat has already performed the stone-laying ceremony for the new Shri Krishna Mandir, the first temple complex in the capital. Severe reactions from fringe communalist elements are understandable, but what is not understandable is Khan taking the cover of the Ideology Council after making a commitment to the Hindu community. Nobody can be sure if he will stand by his word and protect the constitutional rights of the Hindus— equality and religious freedom”.

Pakistan’s political history clearly shows that religion has been used to remove many governments. The PML-Q’s stand against the temple clearly manifests that a “minus-Imran Khan formula” is in the offing. In the coming days, political and religious parties might exploit religious feelings of the people against Prime Minister Imran Khan. If they do it, it will be disservice not only to Islam but also to the country, its people and democracy.