At a Madhya Pradesh cabinet meeting held in the temple town of Ujjain, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ceded his seat to Lord Mahakal's portrait, an act some former bureaucrats said was "unprecedented" in the history of the state and could have been avoided.
A large portrait of Lord Mahakal was placed in the middle of the rectangular table; the place reserved for the chief minister whenever he holds a cabinet meeting.
Notably, the state cabinet meeting was held in Ujjain for the first time in the history of Madhya Pradesh.
At the cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, the CM and state chief secretary Iqbal S Bains sat on the two corners of the rectangular table. The meeting was held in the building known as Samrat Vikramaditya Administrative Complex.
The state cabinet on Tuesday decided to name the newly-developed Mahakaleshwar Temple corridor 'Mahakal Lok’ in the meeting.
On October 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the first phase of the Rs 856- crore Mahakaleshwar Temple corridor development project in Ujjain, located around 200 km from the state capital Bhopal.
Assembly polls are due in Madhya Pradesh in November 2023.
The placing of the portrait evoked sharp reactions from former bureaucrats while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu seers hailed the gesture.
”It was unprecedented and will invite criticism from different quarters,” former chief election commissioner OP Rawat told PTI on Wednesday.
He said if the state government wanted to express gratitude for the deity, the ministers could have visited the temple (of Lord Shiva) in Ujjain after attending the meeting and sought blessings.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary, Kripa Shankar Sharma, said the placing of the portrait of a deity was ”unprecedented" and cannot be justified.
”It is not the right thing to do. God is present everywhere. There is no need to show it exclusively in the government and the administration,” Sharma said.
”In my memory, it is an unprecedented decision and has no justification. Ours is a secular state. Tomorrow, people belonging to other faiths will also demand from the government to do such a thing,” he said, adding that serving bureaucrats should have pointed this out to the government.
Another retired official said India is a secular state which is ruled by the Constitution.
"There was no need for the government to organise the cabinet meeting by placing the portrait of a deity at the meeting. Will they do the same thing if people of other faiths demand the same?" he asked.
He said the placing of the portrait of the deity could be avoided. "It will evoke criticism from different sections of the society".
A Congress leader said a cabinet meeting had been scheduled to be held in Ujjain when the party was in power (from 2018 to 2020), but it was cancelled owing to reservations expressed by religious leaders.
As per a popular belief, Ujjain, which houses one of the 12 'jyotirlings' of Lord Shiva, is governed by Lord Mahakal, and no parallel government can hold its meeting in the temple town.
BJP spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi justified the placing of the portrait.
"The government/administration is a part of the society and holding a cabinet meeting in Ujjain was appropriate as it was done on behalf of more than 7.5 crore people of the state under the umbrella of Lord Mahakal," he said.
Mahamandleshwar Atuleshanand (Acharya Shekhar) also came out in support of the government.
"It is right from the religious point of view. Now, the government must have to fulfil all the decisions taken by the cabinet given that the meeting was held in the presence of Lord Mahadev,” he added.
He referred to the Ramayana to refer to Lord Ram's brother Bharat who ruled Ayodhya with 'charan padukas' when Lord Ram was in exile.
Juna Akhada's Mahamandleshwar Swami Shaileshanand Giri said, ”It is a good indication that the Chouhan government conducted the cabinet meeting in the presence of the deity. There are plenty of such examples in our religion.”