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Political tamasha at the Maha Kumbh

Last updated on: February 7, 2013 08:47 IST

Political tamasha at the Maha Kumbh

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Sharat Pradhan

Sharat Pradhan reports on how the Maha Kumbh at Allahabad is fast turning into a political playground

With politicians making forays into camps of religious gurus and seers at the sprawling Maha Kumbh mela at Allahabad, the 12-yearly mammoth event is fast turning into a political battleground.

It all began with the news of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's possible arrival to participate in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-sponsored conclave of Hindu seers at the Kumbh Nagari.

While Modi's speculated visit on February 6 now stands postponed to February 12, his friends and foes have already got down to playing politics on the long sandy banks of the Sangam (the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers).

February 6 marked the arrival of the new Bharatiya Janata Party president, Rajnath Singh who made it a point to reiterate the party's commitment to building the much-debated Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Sure enough he beat all others in what also appears to be a game of one-upmanship on the Ayodhya issue.

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Image: A sadhu blows a conch shell on the banks of the Ganga river during the Maha Kumbh Mela
Photographs: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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Political tamasha at the Maha Kumbh

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Sure enough the ruling Samajwadi Party could not have remained a silent spectator of BJP's aggressive manifestations of Hindutva. But unlike the past when the party would take to the path of direct confrontation, the ruling SP chose to adopt a novel way to combat its rival.

Thus, no sooner than Modi's plans for a visit trickled in, SP bigwig and Uttar Pradesh Urban Development Minister Azam Khan on Wednesday air-dashed to Allahabad and headed straight for the camp of Jagadguru Shankaracharya Swami Adhokshanand where he was accorded a grand welcome with recitations from the Vedas by none other than a group of 30 select 'dandi' sadhus.

Not only did Khan share a meal of 'poori-sabzi' 'prasad' with the Shankaracharya (with whom he sat on the floor) but also jointly aired their strong views against "communal forces" (obvious reference to BJP and its allies).

"While we believe in social harmony, there were certain forces who believed in sowing the seeds of disharmony and strife," said Azam Khan in a statement.

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Image: A sadhu prays after taking dip in the waters of the Ganga
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

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Political tamasha at the Maha Kumbh

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Sure enough all the obeisance for the Shankaracharya was no coincidence as the latter had gone about issuing a warning to Modi barely 24 hours earlier.

"We will not let Modi enter this pious land of the Kumbh Mela unless he publicly tenders an apology for his misdeeds in Gujarat," declared the seer.

However, irrespective of whether Swami Adhokshanand was among the officially recognized Shankaracharyas or not, there could be no denying that he was a seer with a sizeable following and therefore could not be ignored.

More importantly, he was clearly among the sadhus who enjoyed much patronage of the Samajwadi Party government.

Evidently, it was the government's proximity to Swami Adhokshananad that led Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to turn down a proposal by Jagadguru Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati for the setting up of an exclusive camp only for the Shankaracharyas.

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Image: Hindu devotees line up to see the ongoings inside of a TV satelite truck parked on the banks of the Ganga
Photographs: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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Political tamasha at the Maha Kumbh

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While every politician visiting the Kumbh Mela made it a point to emphasise that he was not here to play politics and that it was sheer faith that had driven him, politics was writ large on each of their actions and utterances.

Therefore, if Rajnath Singh made it a point to echo every sentiment associated with the Ayodhya temple, Azam Khan left stone unturned to prove his secular credentials.

"When the chief minister entrusted the charge of the entire Kumbh Mela to me in my capacity as urban development minister, I took it as my life's biggest challenge specially because it had been given to a Muslim," he said.

The minister added, "I am grateful to the chief minister to have reposed faith in me to carry out this huge responsibility of the Mela despite much opposition from certain quarters."

He said, "I cannot afford to allow any lapse or else it could be easily misconstrued that because of being a Muslim I did not pay the desired attention."

While emphasising how he had taken care to personally monitor every bit of the work carried out by a massive team deployed by the state government, Khan also made it a point to pass the blame for any slip-ups or shortfalls on none other than the Congress-led central government.

"Whatever delays were caused in completing the arrangements were attributable to the delay in release of funds from the Centre," he quipped while embarking on a blame game without which no politicking can be complete.

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Image: UP Urban Development Minister Azam Khan


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