Representational Image/India Rail Info
In Punjab’s only Muslim-majority city of Malerkotla, a mosque and a temple share a common wall, a Muslim man sells prasad outside a Hanuman Mandir and a Brahmin-owned press prints greeting cards for Ramzan. Azan blends with the aarti and clerics and priests recount tales of love and brotherhood, unfazed by the political hustle and bustle in the city in the election season.
Mohammad Yaseen, 33, who sells prasad outside the Hanuman Mandir in the bustling Tajpora market, says Malerkotla did not witness a single communal clash even at the time of Partition. "The incidents you have heard of were the handiwork of outsiders. Here, Muslims attend Mata ki chowki and Hindus prepare sharbat for Iftar," he says.
"The recent burning of Guru Granth Sahib in Hathoa village of the city was accidental. In 2016, some outsiders desecrated our holy book. Earlier too, inimical elements tried to breach the peace in the city but failed. Our brotherhood has withstood the tests of time," he says.
Across the street, inside the Hanuman Mandir, the 73-year-old chief priest, Phoolchand Sharma, says the people of Malerkotla don’t judge each other by their religion.
"The city remains unaffected by the politics of hatred and religion. Candidates do try to seek votes on religious lines, but their attempts to polarise people have proved futile," he says.
"Muslims who own badge-making workshops employ Hindu artisans. The Sikh businessmen hand over the responsibility of their establishments to Muslim employees. And, they never fight over who should become the prime minister of the country," he says.
A kilometre away, in Somsons Colony, a three-year-old temple and a 60-year-old mosque share a nine-inch thick wall and the pujari and the Maulvi’s laughter.
The leaves priest Chetan Sharma offers at the Shivling in the Lakshmir Narayan Mandir come from the Bel tree inside the compound of the Aqsa Masjid. Sharma says he wraps up with the aarti before the namaz starts to avoid any inconvenience to the Muslim devotees.
"Maulvi Sahab greets me with ‘Ram Ram’ every day. We talk about a lot of things from village life to food but stay away from the politics of mandir-masjid. This place is like Ayodhya but a peaceful one," he says.
Maulvi Mohammad Hashim says the mosque administration provided electricity and water for the construction of the temple and distributed sweets at its inauguration.
"During the 2016 flare-up over the Quran desecration incident, our Sikh and Hindu brothers stood with us shoulder to shoulder. From ladder to water, we share everything," he says.
"No politician can drive a wedge between us. It doesn’t matter if it’s Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi. Elections will come and go, but we have to live together daily," Hashim says.
As he packs a bunch of freshly-printed greeting cards for Ramzan, Ashok Sharma, 61, owner of a printing press, says nobody bothers who is voting for whom in the elections.
"We do not think much about it. In a democracy, every person has the right to elect the person of his choice, but we do not engage in futile political debates," he says.
Arijit Singh, a 52-year-old kitchenware dealer, has five employees, all Muslims. He says the tricolor is more important to him than the flag of any political party. "What’s the need for fighting over mandir and masjid when everything means the same," he says.
Malerkotla falls under the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, where the AAP’s Bhagwant Mann is pitted against the Congress’s Kewal Singh Dhillon and the Shrimani Akali Dal’s Parminder Singh Dhindsa. As per Census 2011, there are around 92,000 Muslims, 28,000 Hindus and 12,800 Sikhs in the city.