Divya Kumbh: A poll vehicle to ferry BJP back to power?
In almost all his election rallies across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been mentioning the successful conduct of Kumbh-2019 in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj.Updated: May 09, 2019 15:07 IST
In almost all his election rallies across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been mentioning the successful conduct of Kumbh-2019 in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj.
Drawing parallel between the Lok Sabha elections and the mega fair, he has also been describing polls as the ‘Kumbh of democracy’.
There is a reason why the PM has been invoking Kumbh in his poll campaign.
Organised for the national and international audience with an unprecedented global branding, Rs 4200-crore Kumbh extravaganza was actually the beginning of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll campaign.
With Hindutva and Hindu pride being the inherent message, every event of the Kumbh was played up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his cabinet colleagues.
The call given by seers for the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and the PM washing the feet of sanitation workers also got wide coverage in the media that helped the BJP to send its message across to its voters.
As the fair ended and poll fever gripped the country, the BJP leaders, led by PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, kick-started their poll campaign playing up its Kumbh achievements and hitting out at the previous governments for failing to match the standard of the fair.
BJP leader and Prayagraj district spokesperson of the party Pawan Srivastava said that BJP had always taken pride in Hindu values and traditions. “A grand Kumbh was organised in Prayagraj which will surely benefit the party in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.”
Election analyst and former professor of political science at the Allahabad University (AU) Prof MP Dubey said, “The narrative was clear – the saffron party may have failed to keep its promise of constructing Ram temple in Ayodhya due to the hurdles put by opposition parties, Hindu pride was still on its agenda. Development was also portrayed as the key factor for the people to vote back Modi and BJP to power.”
Though the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, farm distress, high unemployment rate and the alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh poses a major challenge to BJP’s prospects in 2019.
“As the BJP realised that loss of seats in Uttar Pradesh may prevent the BJP from returning to power, the party kept politics alive even during Kumbh. At the much-hyped ‘Dharm Sansad’ too, priests and religious leaders were seen singing praises for Modi and Adityanath for organising the best ever Kumbh,” said Prof Dube, who is also the former vice-chancellor of the Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University (UPRTOU).
“Even during the 49-day fair when some sects of seers started expressing their unhappiness over delay in Ram temple construction, top BJP leaders managed to placate seers on the issue,” he added.
Abhay Awasthi, a poll analyst and a member of the Congress party, said everything was planned to provide maximum leverage to the BJP during elections which were set to take place immediately after Kumbh.
“The fair ended on March 6 with a formal function and the election dates were declared on March 10. First, the Ardh Kumbh was renamed as Kumbh through a government order though it was contrary to the Hindu mythology, scriptures and belief. Thereafter, the name of Allahabad was changed to Prayagraj to increase its religious significance for millions of Hindus,” he pointed out.
“Then the hype started for a ‘Bhavya and Divya Kumbh’ (grand and divine Kumbh),” he said.
Awasthi claimed that just before Kumbh crores of rupees were showered as grants for ‘akhadas’ and seers to get them on their side at a time when the BJP’s failure on Ram temple issue was generating heat in the poll year.
“No wonder then, addressing an election rally in Kaushambi on May 1, Modi went all out to win voters by sharing how he took a dip at Sangam, organised Kumbh successfully, and that too, without any untoward incident,” Awasthi said.
“Modi also spoke on how he washed the feet of sanitation workers after the fair for their efforts in organising Swachch Kumbh — his obvious aim was to woo Hindu and Dalit voters that are essential for the party’s dream to return to power,” he added.
During his Kaushambi rally, Modi also hit out at the country’s first Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru for the 1954 Kumbh tragedy that allegedly left hundreds dead.
Even BJP president Amit Shah, in his April 29 election meeting in Prayagraj, highlighted Kumbh and attacked the Congress for the 1954 Kumbh tragedy.
The Kumbh Mela of 1954 was the first ever to be held after Independence but rather than being a landmark event, it witnessed a tragedy.
On February 3, 1954, a stampede broke out when lakhs of devotees were at the Kumbh Mela area to take a holy dip on the auspicious occasion of Mauni Amavasya.
Nearly 800 people died while a thousand sustained injuries in the incident.
“A large number of politicians were among the 40 lakh pilgrims and visitors, including the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and former President Rajendra Prasad, who had visited the fair in 1954. Though Nehru is believed not to have taken a dip at Sangam but Rajendra Prasad had offered prayers and taken a dip as per tradition,” shared Yogeshwar Tiwari, professor of modern and medieval history at the Allahabad University.
Poll analyst and director of GB Pant Social Science Institute Prof Badri Narayan said: “Kumbh was not just to showcase the seriousness with which the BJP took Hindu pride but also a model for development. A major part of the Rs 4,200-crore budget allocated for the fair was spent on constructing permanent facilities and developing ‘Prayag’.”
He said there was no denying the fact that a lot of development work was carried out in Prayagraj ahead of Kumbh.
“Construction and widening of roads, beautification of crossings, construction of flyovers, railway over-bridges and a new civil terminal airport besides development of railway stations were undertaken so that the millions who visit the fair go back with the impression that development has already taken place,” he said, adding that the remaining work was done by the party’s digital army and propaganda machinery,” he added.
“How successful they finally were would emerge soon on May 23 when the results get declared,” he said.
To ensure that Kumbh continues to get maximum coverage and attention, no stones were left unturned by the BJP and its leaders. A cut-out poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, put up barely 50 metres from the Sangam ghat, was presented as a popular selfie point for visitors.
The Yogi Adityanath government held a cabinet meeting at the mela area on January 29 and the Centre, with the support of state government, conducted much-hyped tours of foreign diplomats of 90 countries and representatives of 187 countries. Besides, heads of governments like PM of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth, President Ram Nath Kovind, chief ministers and governors of various states also visited the fair.
THREE WORLD RECORDS
Kumbh was used as a platform to present a grand spectacle with overt religious tones. The mega fair was almost as encore to the the Rath Yatra of BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani from Somnath to Ayodhya for the Ram temple.
The sheer scale and efforts resulted in three Guinness World Records.
The records included the largest sanitation drive, largest hand painting theme and the largest parade of buses — all in 48 hours with over 18,000 participants.
First Published: May 09, 2019 15:07 IST