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Pilgrimage And Political Mobilization

Pilgrimage And Political Mobilization

The Kanwar Yatra is an annual pilgrimage of devotees of Shiva, who march to Haridwar, Gaumukh, Gangotri and Sultanganj to fetch ‘holy water’ from the Ganga, and then walk with the water in pots and deposit it in a Shiva temple. Those who carry the water are called kanwariyas. Reportedly, the Uttar Pradesh government spent Rs. 14 lakhs just for the chopper that showered flower petals on kanwariyas. Additional Director General (Meerut Zone) Prashant Kumar and other senior police officers posted pictures and videos of them showering petals on  kanwariyas from the chopper.  The BJP directly or indirectly tries to convert Kanwar Yatra into a strategy for attracting more and more Hindus to its ideology and supporting it in the elections. What it wants to convey to the Hindus is that it is the only party that will protect the Hindu religion, culture and interests.

Pilgrimages are one of the religious practices found in all religions and in India one can see pilgrimages throughout the year. Kanwar Yatra is in the month Shravan, July-August. Politicians of many parties in India support the pilgrimages in order to create their vote bank. BJP appears to be in the forefront for promoting Hindu pilgrimages. Some MLAs and MPs make arrangements for the food and rest for the kanwariyas during their journey. Mobilizing large number of kanwariyas is also sometimes considered as an exhibition of the political clout of a leader.

Two incidents were reported this year, when the kanwariyas became violent. On August 7, a group of devotees vandalised a car in Delhi’s Moti Nagar. The incident began as an altercation between kanwariyas and a motorist. It was reported that the kanwariyas were outraged after a car brushed them while they were taking out their procession. They smashed the windowpanes of the car with sticks. In another incident in UP’s Bulandshahr, the kanwariyas attacked and vandalized a police vehicle. They also cause massive traffic jam all along the Delhi-Dehradun route. The Supreme Court on August 10 came down hard on “grave incidents of vandalism” of private and public property. The judges referred to the vandalism by the kanwariyas also.

Using the pilgrimage for political mobilization could be the main reason for the vandalism by the so called devotees. Authentic devotees will not indulge in any violence or cause any inconvenience to the public. When pilgrimage is converted into a means for political mobilization anti-social elements may infiltrate into it and they exhibit their arrogance. They think that they have the blessings of the administration to do as they please. The police officers welcoming the kanwariyas with flower petals can embolden them to indulge in violence. Will the UP police officers welcome the pilgrims of Muslims and Christians with flowers?

Promoting pilgrimages to Hindu pilgrim centres is one of the strategies used by the BJP state governments to increase and sustain its vote bank. In 2012 Madhya Pradesh government introduced Mukhya Mantri Teertha Darshan Yojana for senior citizens who do not pay income tax, first to Rameswaram and later to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Jagannath Puri, Dwarka, Vaisnho Devi, Gaya, Haridwar, Shirdi Tirupati, Ajmer Sharif, Kashi etc. The BJP government in UP doubled the subsidy from Rs. 50,000/- to Rs. 1,00,000/- for each Kailash Mansarovar pilgrim. Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana are also providing various kinds of subsidies for promoting pilgrimages with an eye on votes.

No political party in India can excel the BJP in exploiting the religious sentiments of people for political advantage. The Ram temple movement under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani was the biggest religious cum political movement in the history of independent India that transformed the political fortune of the BJP and enabled it to capture power at the centre and in many states. “It is a text book example for using religion for political goals,” as pointed out by Kuldeep Kumar in one of his articles in Wire (How the BJP – Master of Mixing Religion and Politics – Is Taking India for a Ride). BJP has not left any stone unturned in exploiting religion for its political expansion. It has been extraordinarily creative in inventing from time to time new strategies for using religion for political purpose. ‘ Love jihad’ ‘gau raksha’ and ‘ghar wapasi’ have proved to be very successful in the recent past in polarizing the Hindus against the Muslims and Christians.  Is crowning a Hindu priest as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a Hindu sanyasin as Union Minister not a violation of the Indian Constitution? 

The BJP governments at the centre and in the states have been violating the spirit of the Indian Constitution with regard to relationship between the state and religion. Article 25 of the constitution states clearly that state should be neutral with regard to religion: “ The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of religion only and that the State shall have no religion of its own and all persons shall be equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. The BJP has an allergy to the word ‘secular’ in the Indian Constitution, as Hindutva or transforming India into Hindu Rashtra is the goal of its ideological parent, the RSS. The BJP leaders often argue that the word ‘Secular’ was inserted to the preamble of the constitution by an amendment in 1976; hence secularism is not an essential element of the Indian constitution.  The Supreme Court amply clarified in SR Bommai vs Union of India, 1994 case, “Notwithstanding the fact that the words ‘Socialist and Secular’ were added in the preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd amendment, the concept of Secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy….By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit”.

The BJP came to power at the centre in 2014 by adopting a strategy of promise of development for all, eradication of corruption and an appeal to Hindutva. At the end of the fourth year of Modi’s regime, most of the promises made by the BJP remained only promises. Generating two core jobs a year still remains a dream; bringing back black money of Indians stashed in foreign banks and depositing Rs. 15 lakhs in everybody’s bank account has proved to be a lie; demonetization was a disaster. On the other hand the country has been turned into a ‘republic of hate’ with incidents of frequent lynching by mob and hate speeches by the Sangh Parivar members, including the Union ministers. The pathetic situation of the nation at the end of four years’ rule by BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi is depicted brilliantly in a book titled, ‘Dismantling India’, edited by eminent activists, John Dayal, Leena Dabiru and Shabnam Hashmi.     

The BJP has very little to project as its achievements during the last four years in terms of meeting the expectations of Indians when it goes to face the people in 2019. Besides, the political alliances that are being formed in different states by the opposition parties are rattling the BJP. In UP the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party have formed a formidable alliance. If the Congress also joins the alliance it will have the capacity to take on the BJP. In Bihar the grand alliance under the leadership of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is becoming stronger by winning a few by-elections one after another. An ABP-CVoter opinion poll has showed that BJP will lose to Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh if elections are held now.

Against this backdrop some opposition parties suspect that the BJP may turn to communal issues to win the election. RLD Vice President, Jayant Chaudhary said on August 3 in Ghaziabad that BJP will take resort in communal issues to win the next Lok Sabha election. Promoting harmony among the followers of different faiths is the responsibility of the government according to the constitution of India. Whether the government fulfils its duty or not, the citizens have the responsibility to preserve pluralism and secular democracy. It is also the duty of the citizens to question the government when it deviates from the path of secular democracy. Are the citizens ready to make the government accountable or are they carried away by the propaganda machinery of the government? The future of secular democracy in India will depend on a positive answer to this question.


(Published on 20th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 34)