'Enemy property': India's answer to Trump wants to raze Pakistan founder's home

Vidhi Doshi in Mumbai

Property magnate and politician Mangal Prabhat Lodha, business partner of Donald Trump, reignites tensions over Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Mumbai house

Donald Trump’s alliance with Lodha complicates hopes of the US acting and a meditator between India and Pakistan Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s Indian business partner is leading a campaign to raze a bungalow in Mumbai that was once the home of Pakistan’s founding father, in a dispute threatening to provoke a diplomatic row between Delhi and Islamabad.

The property was the primary residence of Mohammad Ali Jinnah before he moved to Karachi after partition. It has long been a bone of contention between the two nations.

This week, the property magnate and politician Mangal Prabhat Lodha reignited tensions over the house, describing Jinnah House an “enemy property” and calling for it to be demolished.

Lodha, a multi-billionaire property magnate and owner of Lodha Group, which is building Mumbai’s first Trump Tower, said upkeep of the bungalow was costing the government millions of rupees every year and called for it to be replaced with a cultural centre.

“The Jinnah residence in south Mumbai was the place from where the conspiracy of partition was hatched. Jinnah House is a symbol of the partition. Demolishing the property is the only option,” he said, speaking to the state of Maharashtra’s legislative assembly.

Demolishing Jinnah House would cause a major diplomatic row with Pakistan, which has repeatedly claimed ownership of the building and asked India to allow it to house a consulate in the property.

Pakistan foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakria has said in response to the campaign that the property belonged to Pakistan’s founding father and “ownership rights” must be respected.

In Pakistan, Jinnah is celebrated as a hero for creating a nation for Muslims, where they could enjoy self-determination. In India he is depicted as a weak leader who betrayed Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a secular India, and whose demands for partition led to the loss of between one and two million lives.

Relations between the two countries have declined in the past year, with India blaming Pakistan for a series of terror attacks on Indian soil and retaliating with night-time raids on Pakistan-based terrorists in the contested territory of Kashmir.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said on Monday that the Trump administration was “concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan” and “very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward”.

Soon after his election victory, Trump called Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and expressed a desire to strengthen relations. In the surprise phone call, the US president described Pakistan as a “fantastic country” and Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people”.

But Trump’s alliance with Lodha complicates hopes of the US acting as a meditator between the two countries, which are still fighting over disputed territory of Kashmir, and of reinstating strong ties with Islamabad.

Lodha still owns a majority stake in the real estate business partnered with the Trump Organisation in Mumbai.

His rise to mogul status in India mirrors Trump’s in the US. Both are known for building glitzy high-rises and golf courses, and both handed over control of their property empires to their sons to pursue political ambitions.

In January, after Trump’s election, Lodha’s political website even carried the slogan “Make Mumbai great again”, echoing Trump’s campaign mantra. The slogan has now been removed.

A member of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata party, Lodha launched his political career in 1994, capitalising on the anti-Muslim sentiment after the Bombay riots of 1992-93 in which Hindus and Muslims clashed after Hindu hardliners demolished an iconic Muslim worship site.

Over the years Lodha has campaigned to imprison Christians and Muslims for converting Hindus, to stop Hindu-Muslim marriages, to lower the volume of the Muslim prayer call in Mumbai, and to demolish a mosque which he argues was illegally constructed.

Capturing anti-Muslim sentiment has also been a keystone of Trump’s political career so far, with verbal attacks against the family of a Muslim-American war veteran and failed efforts to introduce a Muslim travel ban.

For a separate Trump Towers project in Gurgaon, Trump partnered with Lalit Goyal, owner of IREO Realty which was investigated by Indian intelligence authorities for siphoning off funds for the Commonwealth Games through Goyal’s brother-in-law and BJP leader Sudhashnu Mittal. A third Trump Towers project in the western city of Pune is also being investigated for illegally obtaining building permissions.

The White House did not immediately replied to the Guardian’s request for comment.