Developments in Russia-Ukraine War
Russia-Ukraine war has now crossed 100 days, without any signs of abatement. As things stand at present, the Russian assault continues steadily, despite heavy losses faced by Russia. The key change from the earlier two months is that Russia has changed its haphazard strategy of attacking Ukraine from all sides to exclusively concentrating on the eastern region of Ukraine viz. the Donbas region. The region was already home to anti-Ukraine insurgency movement fueled by the majority Russian-speaking people.
This change of strategy has given Russia temporary advantage in the war. It has made advances in the eastern region. It is one or two cities short of controlling Luhansk. It has also escalated attacks and attempts to control eastern cities like Bakhmut and Sievierodonetsk.
In the southern Ukraine, Russia controls key cities like Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk and port city of Mariupol. In these cities, it has installed local administrators, and offered residents Russian passports and documents to consolidate its control. However, it is facing growing local resistance and partisan activities in these cities. As a result of this resistance, Ukraine has also been able to make breakthroughs in facing the Russian forces in the southern region where Russia had initially made some gains.
Thus, despite Russian advances in the east and the south, it is still being withheld and repelled by Ukrainian counter-attacks and has still not been able to control critical Ukrainian cities, thereby maintaining the balance of war in favour of Ukraine, even as the latter continues to be supplied with heavy and advanced weapons systems from the West.
There is also a significant de-modernization of Russian force structures with legacy weapon systems being reintroduced and vintage armaments being recovered. The Russian Air Force can neither establish control over the airspace nor provide effective ground support, so it is artillery that dominates. Here also Russian advantage is temporary as Ukraine receives accelerated delivery of various Western artillery systems.
Meanwhile, another factor that is weakening Russia is the internal conflict and resistance to war within the country. A series of internal conflicts have been reported in recent weeks. Some of these include:
First, the ethnic conflict and clashes that broke out within the Russian army between Buryats and Chechens. There was a gun battle between Russian troops from the Siberian republic of Buryatia and Chechen fighters loyal to Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov in the occupied Ukrainian territory of Kherson Oblast, which drew in over 100 soldiers. The reason for the conflict was the reluctance of the Buryats to go on the offensive and the ‘inequality’ of their circumstances compared to those of the Chechens.
Second, as a resistance against the war, Russians are waging covert struggles against the Putin regime in Russia. Sections of Russian media are calling this the new underground dimension of resistance against Putin. This is marked by incidents such as fires at military bases, increased train accidents inside Russia, setting aflame of military draft offices, increasing of draft resistance, rise in cases in which soldiers in uniform are refusing to obey orders to deploy to Ukraine, increase in frequency of telephone bomb threats, and hackers posting anti-war messages on Kremlin propaganda sites.
Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute
‘Gyanvapi’ is a peculiar name for a mosque. The term derives from the Sanskrit word ‘jnana’ (knowledge) and ‘vapi’ (well), thereby signifying ‘well of knowledge.’ It is also an apt symbolism for the Shiva lingam recently discovered in a local court-ordained survey inside the mosque.
The survey was ordered this year by the local court in Varanasi on the basis of a petition filed by five Hindu women in early 2021. The petition asked for access for women to pray at a Hindu shrine behind the western wall of the Gyanvapi Mosque complex in Varanasi. Presently, devotees are allowed to worship Shringar Gauri only on the fourth day of Chaitra Navratra. The women also want permission to pray to other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”.
The dispute goes back to 1936. Prior to that, also during the British times, there were Hindu-Muslim riots over the site in early 19th century. In 1936, one Deen Mohammad had filed a complaint before a Varanasi Court seeking a determination that the land around the disputed Gyanvapi structure belonged to Waqf. The Varanasi court noted that the mosque was built on the site of a Hindu temple that was demolished by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century. Following the dismissal, Deen Mohammad approached the Allahabad High Court in 1937.
While the Allahabad High Court had agreed with the civil judge that the mosque itself is Waqf property, it also said the area around the mosque where the namazis (the faithful) would “spill over” during prayers on the last Friday of Ramzan could not be claimed as Waqf property. The 1942 Allahabad High Court ruling had further noted: “The learned Civil Judge has gone into the history of this mosque and has come to the conclusion that it was built on the site of a Hindu temple which was demolished by Emperor Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century. I do not think that it is necessary to go into the question of the origin of the mosque. It is sufficient to go back to the year 1809 when there was a serious riot between Hindus and Musalmans in that part of Benares where the mosque is situated.”
This ruling is presently being quoted by, both, Hindu and Muslim sides to support their respective claims. For the Muslim side, the ruling contained an acknowledgement that the mosque is Waqf property, and, for the Hindu side, the valuable portions of the ruling lay in the use of some witness statements in the 1937 ruling regarding the images of various Hindu deities within the complex.
After Independence, the original suit in 1991 was filed by the devotees in the name of the deity ‘Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar’, stating that the Gyanvapi mosque was built at the site of a 2500-year-old temple – built by King Vikramaditya – that was demolished in 1669 on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. They, therefore, demanded that they should be allowed to “renovate and reconstruct their temple.” Besides this, several other petitions were also filed in 1991 by local priests asking to worship at Gyanvapi.
In 1996, the first attempted survey of the mosque was carried out. Immediately prior to that, another attempted survey in 1996 was stopped by a mob of 500 people who gathered at the mosque. The eventual 1996 survey found that materials on the walls of parts of the mosque indicated the presence of an ancient temple. However, the surveyors were not able to carry out the probe in the structure’s cellars, as the authorities had not given them the keys to the basement. Interestingly, the Nandi and Gaurishankar Maheshwar wells are located in front of the gate leading to the basement, signifying the invisible presence of Mahadeva.
The mosque’s management in 1998 filed a counter-application, demanding the rejection of the suit on the ground that it is barred by provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. As per the Places of Worship Act, 1991, all places of worship shall be maintained as they existed on 15 August 1947, and no legal proceeding can be filed on the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship existing on that date.
According to Section 4 of the Act, all pending cases related to claims over places of worship would come to an end, and no further proceedings could be filed. However, certain sites were exempted from the purview of this section. These include ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It would also not apply to any suit that was settled before the 1991 Act came into force.
According to the language of the Article 4 (3) of the Act,
“Nothing contained in sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) shall apply to, —
(a) any place of worship referred to in the said sub-sections which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site or remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958) or any other law for the time being in force;
(b) any suit, appeal or other proceeding, with respect to any matter referred to in sub-section (2), finally decided, settled or disposed of by a court, tribunal or other authority before the commencement of this Act;
(c) any dispute with respect to any such matter settled by the parties amongst themselves before such commencement;
(d) any conversion of any such place effected before such commencement by acquiescence;
(e) any conversion of any such place effected before such commencement which is not liable to be challenged in any court, tribunal or other authority being barred by limitation under any law for the time being in force.”
At present, it is not immediately clear whether the exceptions in this Act are applicable to Gyanvapi and how. However, the Act itself is facing legal challenges for being arbitrary and discriminatory and for not being conducive to seeking remedial justice for historical wrongs. It can also be questioned in the context of the 1937 and 1942 court rulings regarding the construction of mosque over a demolished temple, depending on if and how the rulings are interpreted and applied.
After 1998, the dispute was raised again after a hiatus of 21 years. Immediately after the Supreme Court judgement in Ramjanmabhoomi case in 2019, a fresh petition was filed a month later in a local Varanasi court. The petition sought a survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque complex by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). At that time the Allahabad High Court came down heavily on the local court.
In April 2021, the Varanasi court directed the ASI to survey the Gyanvapi Mosque compound adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple to find out whether it was a “superimposition, alteration or addition or there is structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure.” This survey could not be carried out due to an interim stay by the Allahabad High Court.
In 2022, at the direction of the Varanasi court, a fresh survey was ordered to ascertain the site where Maa Shringar Gauri was located, with the report to be submitted by early May 10th. This initial survey was interrupted at behest of the mosque management committee which alleged the bias of a surveyor team member. However, the court rejected the mosque committee’s demand to replace the team member and additionally also gave its consent for videography inside the Gyanvapi mosque premises and asked the final report to be submitted by May 17th.
On the mosque committee’s objection that there was no need for videography inside the mosque since Maa Shringar Gauri site is ‘outside’ the western wall of the mosque as claimed by the petitioner, the court said the report will clarify the exact location of the Shringar Gauri. The court said that, “If anyone creates any hindrance, like if there are locks at some places, then the district administration will have the full right to get the locks opened or broken for the commission’s action.” The court was clear that the process of inspection will not be stopped under any condition whether any of the parties co-operate or not.
After the Supreme Court refused to issue a stay on proceedings, the court-mandated survey continued at the Gyanvapi Masjid complex. Three court-appointed advocate commissioners, five lawyers each from the two sides, an assistant and a videography team participated in the survey.
Results of the Survey Report:
Even though the survey report was submitted confidentially to the court, yet it somehow was leaked to the media which claimed to be in possession of several of its key contents including some photographs and videographic evidence. The following were the contents of the leaked report:
- Much before the final leaked report, the discovery of a 2.5 feet long black Shiva Lingam was already made beneath the ‘Wazu Khana’ – place where people wash hands and feet – of the mosque. The petitioners argued for sealing that part of the mosque, which the court accepted. The Muslim side objected that the discovered structure was not a Shiva Lingam but a part of the fountain.
- The survey uncovered symbols of a trident, lotus engravings, damru, swastik, betel leaves, elephant’s trunk and Hindi carvings in the mosque complex.
- A conical structure was found beneath the central dome of the mosque and a stone was found with lotus engravings.
After these discoveries, various Hindu organizations have instructed Hindus to begin worshipping the ‘Shivling’ found from wherever they are. The trajectory of the case will now mainly depend on the legal recourse followed, with the next hearing slated for July this year.
Disturbance in Punjab
Punjab’s situation has rapidly deteriorated since the rule of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) began in the state. There were already popular apprehensions regarding AAP’s links with Khalistani separatists and its dubious sources of foreign funding, with its links to terrorist elements being apparent on several occasions (Pokharna, 2022). With the party’s recent ascendancy to power in Punjab, the situation on the ground is rapidly turning volatile.
The party began its rule in the state with its usual theatrics, demanding that Chandigarh be given exclusively to Punjab. This was followed by demands for hefty funding from the Centre, launch of populist welfare schemes and usual theatrical mode of politics which has become the marker of the party – such as high-profile crackdowns on corruption, withdrawing VIP security covers etc. In other words, everything that could encourage high-profile drama and media attention was undertaken. This was the typical Delhi model. It is also well-known that effectively Delhi’s AAP leadership is running Punjab.
However, the party had miscalculated. Punjab is not a small, urbanized city-centre like Delhi. It is a sensitive border state, is large and is marked by economic, social, cultural and political complexity and diversity. AAP’s misrule and theatrical mode of politics shows that it has not been able to grapple with the challenges of Punjab.
Radicalization – which was already increasing since before the rise of Farm Protests of 2020 – has increased even more. Incidents like the Patiala clashes and attack on Kali Devi temple, followed by various other clashes have gone up. Intelligence headquarters of Police in Mohali was attacked using a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and a huge cache of drugs and explosives recovered from the state. Pakistan’s ISI and a Khalistan group have been responsible for it.
In recent times, the murder of singer Sidhu Moosewala by assassins sitting in Canada happened despite intelligence inputs received by the Punjab police. This murder has further been followed up by various other instances of large, daylight murders in college campuses and other public places due to inter-gang wars which have suddenly broken out. Openly pro-Khalistan signaling in public places, such as the Golden Temple, has gone up.
The entire Opposition in the state and the major Sikh groups have united to condemn the AAP’s misgovernance and inability to manage law and order in the state. Even the farmers of the state have turned against the AAP and had briefly staged a protest against the Punjab government (Deccan Herald, 2022). In response, the AAP government has clearly backtracked and is now in touch with the Centre regarding the sensitive situation in the state. If the situation in the state continues to free-fall, the likelihood of breakdown of law and order machinery cannot be ruled out.
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