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Competitive religiosity

india Updated: Sep 12, 2006 16:11 IST

The 2003 Vidhan Sabha elections were one of the most secular in Madhya Pradesh since the Ayodhya movement in the 1990s. It was fought essentially on development, or lack of it. Religiosity may be an inalienable part of sadhvi Uma Bharti’s persona but the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate solely focussed the election campaign on Digvijay Singh’s misrule. The strategy paid the BJP beyond expectations. 

But once she became the chief minister, Uma’s penchant for ritualism came to the fore from the day one. Assorted sadhus and sants elbowed out BJP leaders in front rows at the Uma Bharti’s oath-taking ceremony. Next day she flew to Tirupati and returned with her head tonsured.

Then followed newspaper reports on her elaborate puja at the CM’s cabin, idol installations at the bungalow, cow feeding on roads, bhajans at journalists’ meets, midnight holy dips at Narmada ghats and scheduled and unscheduled hopping  to  temples across the country.

She pronounced the cow, the woman and the Narmada as her government’s leitmotif. Most of her political decisions had religious overtone or undertone. Inspired by Govindacharya, the Sadhvi was clear about her Hindu agenda and made no bones about pushing it. Whatever she did to this end, she did with panache. That was typical of Uma Bharti.

Uma’s successor Babulal Gaur lacked her charisma and single-minded pursuit. But he felt compelled to match her religious zeal in public to exorcise the Uma’s ghost in the party. Keeping the Sangh Parivar in good humour was his big concern.

His two pet schemes Gokul Gram and Ayodhya Basti had unmistakable religious connotation. Gaur also declared five cities as holy cities. However, it must be said to his credit that Babulal Gaur’s real agenda was basically irreligious. His rule was reminiscent of Congress’s -warts and all.   

Shivraj Singh Chouhan , on the other hand, is a product of the Ayodhya movement. He climbed the political ladder chanting  “Jai Shri Ram” and publicly revering the symbols that fueled the BJP’s political juggernaut in nineties. He developed fascination for symbolism early in the close company of the elder Sangh Parivar members.

Most of his young ministerial colleagues also owe their rise in politics largely to the same movement. They were in the BJYM then. The agitation brought them in big public arena. Most of them are from middle and lower middle class, and hail from semi urban or rural background.

The exposure to the agitation moulded their worldview in which history is mythology and the ‘golden’ past is aspiration for future. However, when they came to power, the dynamics of 21st century, post-globalised governance has brought them in a different realm where they have to deal with different people with different mindsets including clever IAS officers. That has posed a dilemma before the CM and the ministers. The dilemma reflects in the Government’s attempts at mismatch wedding of the mythology with modernism.