The month-long Simhastha Kumbh, a once in 12-year congregation of lakhs of pilgrims on the banks of Kshipra river, appears to have fulfilled its political objective of giving a date for start of construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has announced that the work will start by December 31, a few months before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Ayodhya is in Uttar Pradesh and the construction of Ram Temple could be a sensitive issue in the polls considering that it can polarise voters on religious lines. Around 18% of voters in UP are Muslims. “We will keenly watch the Supreme Court which will hear the Ram Janam Bhoomi case after the vacation,” a VHP functionary said.
The Kumbh, where the attendance was less than expected, saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to extend its influence on Dalits with its president Amit Shah taking a holy dip with Dalit saints. Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Srisena also participated in an event organised by the state government. In addition, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat was one of the speakers at a three-day ideological mahakumbh.
The participation of many dignitaries turned into a saving grace for the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which had invested Rs 4,000 crore to showcase the event. In the beginning, the attendance was much less than expected but it improved a bit on most days in May after Shah and PM’s visits to the Kumbh. But, still it was less than what the state government had estimated.
Simhastha in-charge minister Bhupendra Singh claimed that over eight crore pilgrims had visited the Simhastha during the one-month period, and over 1.5 crore people had visited Ujjain on the last day. There are, however, doubts over the figure of eight crore people visiting the Kumbh.
The Simhastha Kumbh, however, had its share of criticism with opposition Congress party accusing the government of indulging in massive corruption, especially in making of temporary toilets. “Mismanagement and corruption were the hallmarks of the Simhastha and instead of the event being a glorification of Lord Shiva, the chief minister tried to brand himself,” alleged party spokesperson K K Mishra.
Pt Anand Shankar Vyas of Ujjain said he had been seeing the Simhastha Kumbh since 1945 but earlier there was no attempt on the part of political parties to draw a political mileage from the religious event as they were doing it now.