Devotees take a dip in the Godavari river during the Kumbh Mela in Nashik ahead of ahead of 'shahi snan' (holy bath). (Arijit Sen/HT photo)
Devotees take a dip in the Godavari river during the Kumbh Mela in Nashik ahead of ahead of 'shahi snan' (holy bath). (Arijit Sen/HT photo)

Next year’s Kumbh Mela set to wear different hues with political overtones

In general election year, next year’s Kumbh Mela promises to be religion, politics, business, tourism and global branding rolled into one, say analysts.
Hindustan Times, Allahabad | By Kenneth John
UPDATED ON OCT 25, 2018 07:33 AM IST

Next year’s Kumbh Mela, starting on January 15 in Allahabad, will not just be the traditional, religious mega congregation on the banks of the Sangam. In general election year, it promises to be religion, politics, business, tourism and global branding rolled into one, say analysts.

Plans are on to promote the event in prominent cities across the world. The Uttar Pradesh tourism department will hold road shows next month in Berlin, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Dublin and Copenhagen, says regional tourism officer Anupam Srivastava.

This, in itself, is a departure from the past, going beyond the all too familiar images of khadau (traditional wooden slippers), kamandal (water pot carried by Hindu holy men), kalpvas (a month-long observance of spiritual austerity on the riverbank) and moksha (salvation).

The event on the banks of the Sangam (the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati) will have seers discussing religion, businessmen exploring investment avenues and tourists pouring in for spiritual experience as well as to get a feel of real India, say analysts.

The mega religious congregation that begins on January 15 and ends on March 4 is expected to draw 120 million pilgrims, twice the population of the United Kingdom.

Kumbh Mela officer Vijay Kiran Anand says preparations are for a global audience and nearly two million foreign nationals are expected to arrive.

Special brochures will be published in Spanish, German and French carrying an in-depth history of and information about the Kumbh, Srivastava adds.

A special stall will be put up at the World Travel Mart between November 5 and 7 in London. Webcasting of the mela proceedings to 25 countries is on the cards, Anand says.

A separate colony for non-resident Indians (NRI) is also on the anvil.

The state information department has been allocated a budget of ~50 crore for a mega branding exercise in the print and the electronic media at the national and international levels.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and ambassadors of 192 countries will congregate at the Sangam in the third week of December to ensure a smooth visit for foreign nationals.

A two-day NRI meet is scheduled in Varanasi, about 120km away, and the delegates will visit the Kumbh Mela, staying in luxury tents.

Analysts say all this shows that the Modi government at the Centre and the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh are leaving no stone unturned to make the event a global affair, showcasing the vision for a modern, prosperous and forward-looking India, strategically before the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Allahabad in November to review the final stage of preparations.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who is also a full-fledged monk and head of the Gorakhnath temple, visited Allahabad four times from January to May to discuss and review preparations for the Kumbh.

Just a few months after assuming office as chief minister, Adityanath sought to enhance the bra- nd identity of the event and announced in mid-2017 that the Ardh Kumbh 2019 will now be known as the Kumbh Mela. The Ardh Kumbh is held every six years and the Kumbh every 12 years.

On January 19, 2018, Adityanath announced that the Kumbh was included in Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. For the first time, a serving CM arrived in Allahabad on May 19 to announce the dates of Shahi Snan (royal bath by seers of the traditional ascetic orders of akharas) for the Kumbh.

In February, Union minister for road transport and highways, shipping and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari announced in Allahabad that amphibious buses would run on the Ganga and that the Haldia-Varanasi waterways would be extended to Sangam with the help of World Bank before the Kumbh.

Prof Badri Narayan, social scientist and director of Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, says, “It is a major celebrati- on combining the power of marketing, the power of advertisement and the power of politics.”

With the Lok Sabha polls scheduled in 2019, the event will present the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with an opportunity to display its commitment to the Hindutva campaign, he says.

Industrialist and former president of Eastern Chambers of Commerce and Industry GS Darbari says, “This time, politics, business and religion seem to have been rolled into one. Like never before, the tourism industry will get a chance to cash in. The same will be the case with the hospitality industry, travelling sector, retail sector and some parts of the manufacturing sector. Kumbh 2019 will be commercialisation of religion.”

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