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With the arrest of Kalicharan Maharaj from Khajuraho, Chhattisgarh, police may have finally acted to put an end to public abuse of M.K. Gandhi in at least one case. But the programme that precipitated the crisis was ironically attended (and allegedly even organised) by leaders of the ruling Congress party itself. It is a direct result of trying to match the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva with its own brand by a state government which has planned its own Ram Van Gaman Path. The electoral war is in Uttar Pradesh, but the skirmishes are being staged in faraway Chhattisgarh to prove Hindu credentials of the Congress to the electorate.
‘Dharma Sansad’ or ‘religious parliament’ is an anachronism, or more accurately an oxymoron. To level religion with parliament is what democracies should be seeking to avoid. Any religious organisation or event mimicking parliament has almost always ended in controversy and chaos. It perhaps started from Kawardha in Chhattisgarh in December 2014, when Shankaracharya of Dwarka headed the congregation which declared Shirdi Sai as anti-Hindu and Sai followers were thrown out of the event. The Dharma Sansad in Haridwar ended in similar acrimony and now another one in Raipur has ended in speakers targeting Muslims and Gandhi. It was reportedly abruptly called off after the chief minister’s house sent instructions.
Leaders from as diverse thinking as BJP and AIMIM have castigated the Chhattisgarh government for allowing the event in the first place. “It was organised by the Congress and when Kalicharan, who is a known Gandhi-baiter, was invited to speak twice, it shows their eagerness to foment trouble,” says former chief minister and BJP national vice-president Raman Singh. On the other hand AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted: “It all happened under the patronage of Congress.” He is cut up that none of the Congress leaders present took umbrage at the abuse of Muslims by speakers and the FIR has also been registered only against Kalicharan.
The Raipur event was in response to another one held in Kawardha on December 6, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a huge Hindu Shaurya Jagaran Mahasabha. The VHP event itself was a result of the riots in October when the small town went under curfew for 20 days after scuffles broke out over hoisting of religious flags. That in itself is a record as there has been no curfew in any town in the entire state for more than two decades related to any communal tension.
“It is a deliberate attempt by the chief minister to create dissensions here to feed his image in UP as he has been given charge to campaign there,” says Raman Singh. His theory is that Bhupesh Baghel wants to please the Gandhi siblings by following their line of Hindutva and making a show of his Hindu credentials, like them. There might be a grain of truth in this, as Baghel’s policies have leaned towards adopting all the symbols of the RSS and its Hindutva ideology, like buying gobar and creating a 1,000-km-long Ram Van Gaman Path, across places where Lord Ram is believed to have walked on his way to Lanka. There are several temples in these mythical places which will become part of a religious itinerary that Baghel hopes to consolidate.
He has already adopted Ram’s mother Kaushalya as a native of Chhattisgarh. It is now “officially” believed that Kaushalya was born in Chandkhuri near Raipur. A huge temple is now slated to be built to mark her birthplace. A writer has even received a state award for propounding on this theory in a book.
While Baghel’s father is known to abuse Brahmins, an FIR was lodged against him at the insistence of the chief minister a couple of months ago after several Brahmin organisations raised the issue. It is to be noted that Brahmins form about 15% of the UP electorate and are only 1% of the population in Chhattisgarh. Baghel has also visited Benaras and the Kashi Vishwanath corridor with Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi after the visit of the prime minister. Whatever the impact of such policies and tactics in UP, it is clear that Baghel is attempting to take on the Hindutva lobby by emulating it.
Neeraj Mishra is a senior journalist based in Raipur.