Even as religious leaders in saffron robes endorsed Narendra Modi for leading the country here on Friday, the Gujarat chief minister extolled the role of “sants” in Indian culture.
Modi also sought their blessings so that “he never does anything wrong in future.”
By reaching out to religious leaders Modi hopes to garner the support of their followers, a rather sizeable chunk of voters. Religious leaders associating with politics isn’t a new theme in Indian politics.
Just four years back, yoga guru Baba Ramdev had become the focal point for a large group of religious and political leaders comprising leaders of Hindu Akharas, the RSS and the BJP in Haryana.
At that time, it was BJP leaders who pledged support to people accused of saffron terror and the sadhus in turn endorsed the BJP as a party they looked up to.
While the BJP has attempted to project a largely secular and moderate face for a number of years now – in fact claiming that it is the party best suited for “development” – instances like these recur to bring out its Hindutva roots time and again.
“The BJP may show itself to be secular, but there are pressures from many of its related organisations like VHP that have a strong religious presence, and the party can’t afford to lose their goodwill,” says JNU sociologist Vivek Kumar.
After the party’s rise in the days of the Ram Janmabhumi movement, an entire battery of leaders in saffron robes became the leading faces of the party.
The role played by the likes of Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambhara in taking the BJP to the masses is well recorded.
Even now the party continues to have leaders who would rather don the saffron of sadhus than the whites that are politicians are usually seen in, Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath being a prime example.
However, political leaders across parties have been known to seek blessings from godmen and religious leaders.
Former PM PV Narasimha Rao’s closeness with godman Chandraswami is well known. Even Indira Gandhi reportedly sought the blessings of sadhus like Devraha Baba.