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|February 9, 1998||
The Sadhu Effect
Haresh Pandya in Rajkot
They come in different sizes and shapes. But the colour, invariably, is the same: Saffron.
The sadhus, who have been adding fire to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad ever since it launched the Ram temple movement in the 1980s, are all over Gujarat. Busy soliciting -- what else? -- votes for the Hindutva brigade.
Even before the VHP and Bharatiya Janata Party filed nominations, the bhagats and mahants had started sharing the limelight and gracing political platforms. Active participation in politics by the sadhus is now no longer a taboo; rather it is considered a status symbol.
The Ram Janambhoomi issue therefore should be considered a watershed in Indian politics. The sadhus found political legitimacy from the frequency with which the VHP provided them opportunities to interact with politicians.
Thus, the sadhus, whether small or big in stature, have today become indispensable to the VHP and BJP, who have a virtual monopoly over them, in electioneering. Those who do not agree to their views prefer to keep mum -- that, they feel, is any day better than being dubbed anti-Hindu. Like it happened to the Dwarka Shankaracharya -- his proximity to the Congress and opposition to the VHP's plans for Ayodhya has led him away from the masses.
Gujarat, where the influence of religion on masses is tremendous, has thus become the BJP's stronghold. It has been able to rope in and use the sadhus in politicking for successive elections. The last time, the sadhus, led by Acharya Dharmendra, ensured the defeat of Shankarsinh Vaghela and his coterie. The defeat eventually led Vaghela to part ways with the BJP.
After engineering a split in the parent party, Vaghela had tried to divide the sadhus and create his own followers in the saffron community. He won over Chaitanya Shambhu Maharaj and Gopalanandji of Junagadh in his effort. But that does not matter much; the BJP-VHP base remains almost intact.
The Swaminarayan sect, the most prominent one in Gujarat and also among Gujaratis abroad, has provided solid support to the BJP. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who launched the party's national campaign from Rajkot, attended a Swaminarayan function, thus indicating the rapport his party had with the sect.
Last week the convention organised by the Rajkot district BJP youth wing was inaugurated by Purushottam Swami, a Swaminarayan sadhu. Similarly, Dudhraj Mahant and the Mahant of Ambardini Jagya were scheduled to attend the maldhari get-together organised by the party at Jasdan a few days ago.
The Rashtriya Janata Party, realising the importance of sadhus in politics, has roped in Shambhu Maharaj's son and few of his ilk to counter the VHP.
The Congress, which used to enjoy Muslims support, has failed to win over any Hindu seer who could bolster its image among voters.
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