Repackaging the Ardh Kumbh supplements fresh chants of Ram Janmabhoomi in the BJP’s effort to consolidate the Hindu vote in an election year. Poornima Joshi reports
Be it Ayodhya or Kumbh, presenting a spectacle with overt religious tones is a speciality that the BJP has mastered over the years to guarantee votes. Three decades back, Lal Krishna Advani mounted the chariot in Somnath to Ayodhya with a battle cry that resonated – Saugandh Ram Ki Khaate Hain Ham Mandir Wahin Banayenge (We swear on Lord Rama that his temple will be built in his birth place)”.
Today, the BJP is trying hard to do an encore. At the end of his almost one-hour-long presidential address to the BJP’s national convention during January 11-12, Amit Shah clenched his fists and pledged, “We were committed to constructing the Ram temple, we remain committed to building the Ram temple.”
He was addressing an irate, restive assembly of delegates who would shout time and again “What about the Ram temple”, waving their fists at dignitaries on the dais — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath besides top Union Ministers, office-bearers and chief ministers of the BJP-ruled States.
Law of diminishing returns
But the keen practitioners of the art of politics that Modi and Shah are, they know that Ramjanmabhoomi suffers cruelly from the law of diminishing returns. Barring the party faithful and a select group of VHP-funded religious heads, Ramjanmabhoomi no longer gets the voter excited.
In the recent Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, for instance, this correspondent found practically no voter who was interested in the VHP’s antics in Ayodhya. And in UP, regardless of Amit Shah’s claim that the BJP will secure 74 of the 80 parliamentary seats in the general elections, newly-worked caste alliances and arithmetic threaten the ruling party’s prospects.
Ramjanmabhoomi alone is not enough to consolidate the Hindu vote when caste arithmetic is being reworked by regional players such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) which have formally announced an alliance for the parliamentary elections. This was a coalition that swept Ramjanmabhoomi away even in its heyday in the mid-1990s with the iconic slogan: Mile Mulayam-Kanshi Ram, Hawa Me Ud Gaye Jai Shri Ram (the coalition of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram swept Jai Shri Ram away)”.
This is where the Ardh Kumbh comes in. A mega event like the Kumbh, with the UP State merging its identity with thousands of religious groups, Akharas and grand public exhibition of ritualistic traditions, is necessary to supplement Ramjanmabhoomi if Hindu vote is to be consolidated in the politically most critical state in India.
A rebranding exercise
“Kaath ki handi baar baar nahin chadhti (you can’t harvest the same seed every year). Plus, the BJP suffers from a lack of credibility on the issue of Ram temple. They have a government at the Centre and in the State but there has been no movement for the construction of the temple in the last five years,” says Shitla Singh, Editor of the Faizabad-based daily Jan Morcha, who has recently published a book titled Ayodhya: Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Ka Sachch (The truth about Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri mosque in Ayodhya).
“UP is a mercurial State and has shown a tendency for communal polarisation much more than the neighbouring Bihar or Madhya Pradesh. They (the BJP) need other issues to consolidate a uniform Hindu identity at a time when regional caste-based parties are aligning against them,” Singh adds.
So, the solemn spiritual Ardh Kumbh has been rebranded as Divya Kumbh-Bhavya Kumbh and Allahabad has been duly rechristened Prayagraj to mount the spiritual spectacle, along with the ongoing efforts to revive Ramjanmabhoomi as a live issue in the run-up to the general elections.
The Yogi Adityanath-led UP government is spending a whopping ₹4,300 crore on the exercise in a State with a Human Development Index (HDI) — a composite index of life expectancy, education and per capita income — score of 0.583, much below the national average HDI of 0.639. Adityanath’s Kumbh outreach is closely monitored by the BJP President and the Prime Minister himself.
Five days ahead of the formalisation of the alliance between the BSP and SP representing the Dalit and OBC voter base, the Prime Minister unveiled the upcoming event in his itinerary on his weekly Mann ki Baat: “Jitna divya utna hi bhavya (the tagline coined for branding Kumbh). Kumbh evokes a sea of belief and emotion. Lakhs of people gather. Saints and sages have started arriving for Kumbh. It has been hailed by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage”. Recently, several ambassadors of different countries saw preparations for the Kumbh. Over 150 countries will participate… “I have myself gone to Prayagraj and witnessed big preparations being made. People were enthusiastic. There is an integrated command and control centre… I invite all of you to come to Kumbh. Share your pictures of Kumbh, inspire others to visit the Kumbh,” the Prime Minister said in his radio address.
The two-month long spectacle will commence on January 15. According to Uttar Pradesh’s Energy Minister Shrikant Sharma, it symbolises the “Sanskritic Rashtravaad (cultural nationalism)” that has characterised the BJP’s ideology and identity since the beginning. Indeed, rebranding of an age-old tradition can only bolster “cultural nationalism” in an election year. At least that is what the ruling party would pray for at the Kumbh in the newly-named Prayagraj.
Source : https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/specials/india-file/the-business-and-politics-of-kumbh/article25994920.ece