The saffron brigade chose to use the ongoing Simhastha Kumbh in Ujjain as a political tool in its quest to broaden and strengthen its base across the country by bringing in Dalits, a crucial part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) scheme of things.
During the Simhastha in 2004, the Madhya Pradesh government’s focus was on crowd regulation and to ensure that the fair passes off peacefully. The BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani also hardly thought of drawing any political mileage from the fair.
However, 12 years down the line the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has a different perspective on the Simhastha. It planned a samrasta snan or a holy dip in river Kshipra with Dalit seers and a samrasta bhoj to partake food with them. Of course, the phrases were coined by BJP leaders to send out a message that the party provides equal space to Dalits.
Also, the state government has organised a three-day ‘Ideological Mahakumbh’ which will be attended by Prime Minister Modi among others. The two programmes have been organised back to back.
That the BJP’s bath and lunch programme organised on Wednesday was a flawed one politically has been admitted by party leaders indirectly. BJP president Amit Shah did visit the Valmiki Dham where the Dalit seers live but avoided using the word ‘Dalit’ during his visit.
After facing criticism on ‘Ideological Mahakumbh’, the state government has given a clarification saying that the Ideological Mahakumbh is being held 15 kilometres away from Ujjain. Critics questioned the need to organise the Mahakumbh during Simhastha asking whether it could be held earlier or later.
The tragedy during the Allahabad Kumbh in 1954, the first after Independence in which hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured, was seen as a message to political leaders to stay away from the important religious affair and not use the huge gathering as a means to strengthen their base in the society. But the politicians don’t seem to have learnt any lesson in the course of time.
The state government itself projected a gathering of five crore people during Simhastha. The sheer number could have been reason enough for the ruling party and the government to refrain from organising any political event and instead concentrate on making better arrangements for the pilgrims and ensure that there were no loopholes.
The administrative lapses caused due to the authorities’ diverted attention to the BJP’s programme and the Ideological Mahakumbh were said to be one of the reasons behind the extent of casualty witnessed during the recent storm which hit the mela and left at least seven people dead.
The 1954 tragedy occurred due to information that the then prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru would visit the mela and Naga sadhus’ processions leading to the administration trying to keep the huge gathering of people at bay from them.
Senior journalist and astrologer from Allahabad Ram Naresh Tripathi says after the tragedy the Justice Kamal Kant Verma Committee came with several recommendations which suggested that VVIPs should keep away from the mela on peak days and no event other than religious ones should be organised during the mela.
Tripathi says Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh melas should never become an occasion for political events. Earlier when politicians attended them, they did so with a selfless cause of helping the pilgrims. But the politicisation of these melas started when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister and the Congress Seva Dal made an entry into it. Later, Vishwa Hindu Parishad politicised the fair by holding meetings of sadhus and sants during the mela on Ram Janm Bhoomi issue.
He said the reason why politicians should not hold any political programme was simple. It helps the administration to concentrate on mela affairs and do their job more efficiently. If a senior politicians visit the mela, the administration has to divide its attention which can give rise to chances of lapses in the way mela affairs are run and the huge crowd is regulated.
But unfortunately, he said, the Simhastha 2016 again saw political events being organised.
Pandit Anand Shankar Vyas of Ujjain said he is witnessing Simhastha since 1945 but there were no attempts earlier on the part of political parties to draw a political mileage from the religious programme as they were doing it now.