Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s remark that he had no objection to namaz being offered in open public spaces as long as it did not impede civic facilities such as traffic and did not lead to law and order issues, makes sense. Neither the Constitution nor the courts unconditionally permit the use of public spaces for daily religious events.
The Chief Minister’s statement that Muslims should offer prayers preferably at mosques or in their homes is also reasonable. Neither politics nor religion should be read into his remarks. His response came in the wake of a minor confrontation that occurred in Gurgaon between a Muslim congregation and a bunch of activists from the Samyukta Hindu Sangathan Sangharsh Samiti, with the latter objecting to namaz in a public place. Violence of course has no place in deciding such matters, and the State administration has done well to crack down on the Hindu activists.
But now the narrative is sought to be shifted by pro-Muslim bodies into the familiar Hindu versus Muslim context, with Muslim leaders saying that they had no problem with the Khattar’s response so long as all other religious events conducted in public were stopped. The reference is to Kanwariya processions and other such public events the Hindus celebrate. But the two are not comparable. While the Kanwariya procession and other public events of the Hindu faith are largely yearly happenings — once a year or so — the namaz is a daily event.
Surely there are ways to handle the issue, and the Muslim clerics have a major role to play in finding the solution. If the mosque in a nearby locality is too small to accommodate the large number of devotees, then perhaps the namaz could be held in two batches. This is what a cleric in Lucknow had once suggested. In case of extreme circumstances, the prayers can be held in an open public space without inconveniencing others. As for the Kanwariyas, there have been reports of mayhem during the procession, causing traffic snarls and even violent confrontation with the people and the police. As a result, guidelines have been put in place and it is the responsibility of the Kanwariyas to adhere to them. The same is true of immersions of idols, when again disrupts the smooth flow of traffic. Meanwhile, it is best to not blow the issue out of proportion and convert it into a communal matter.