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Bhopal: The newly inaugurated Mahakal Lok corridor at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain has become the latest bone of contention between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh and the opposition Congress party.
Ever since the BJP government announced that the corridor would be inaugurated on October 11, the Congress has been claiming that the project had been initiated during their short-lived government led by Kamal Nath between December 17, 2018, and March 20, 2020.
“I had approved Rs 750 crore for the project,” Congress leader Tarun Bhanot said in Jabalpur on Tuesday, October 11, just hours before the inauguration ceremony for the corridor. Bhanot had served as finance minister in the Kamal Nath government.
Kamal Nath himself accused the BJP government of taking credit for things that had never happened.
Speaking to reporters in Bhopal a day before the inauguration of the corridor, he said, “Whatever I have done for Mahakal Lok corridor is a documented fact. They [the BJP] are not accepting this fact, but they will do in the future just like they accepted the fact of the farm loan waiver when they were asked about it in the assembly.”
The official records, he added, would prove that the project had been started under his government.
Attack and counterattack
Hours before the inauguration of the corridor on Tuesday, the Congress released a video featuring content relating to the Mahakal Lok corridor project that had been posted by members of their short-lived government on their official social media handles between 2019 and 2020.
The inauguration of the first phase of the project by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place on Tuesday evening.
In fact, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan used the opportunity of the inauguration to accuse Congress of slowing down the project instead.
“In 2016, Prime Minister Modi had visited the Mahakumbh and said there was a need for a religious centre as intellectual wealth alone cannot provide happiness,” Chouhan said in his speech at the inauguration ceremony. “Subsequently, we held a Vichar Mahakumbh and PM Modi took part in the closing ceremony. Among the 51 points we discussed then was the Mahakal Lok.”
Chouhan continued, “After consulting with experts, the Madhya Pradesh cabinet passed the project in 2018 and floated the tender subsequently. But the project was stalled between 2019-2020 [when the Congress was in power]. It resumed after the BJP returned to power in 2020.”
In his speech at the event, Prime Minister Modi said that the idea of building the Mahakal Lok corridor had come to him in 2016 when he stood on the banks of Ujjain’s Shipra river.
“The Mahakal Lok corridor is part of a plan to restore India’s old glory. The work on the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is in full swing and the development of Vishwanath Dham in Kashi, as well as the temples in Somnath, Kedarnath, Badrinath and other religious places is also in progress,” Modi said.
The Prime Minister continued, “From conceptualising it to speedily implementing it, I congratulate the Madhya Pradesh government for successfully completing the project.”
With a warmth he has seldom shown to Chouhan earlier, Modi added, “I would like to congratulate Bhai Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his government for having worked with such dedication for so long to complete it.”
The Congress hand
Accusing the BJP and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of “spreading lies”, the Congress once again reiterated that the Kamal Nath-led government had officially launched the project in 2019, keeping it low profile.
“The chief minister claimed in his speech that the tender had been floated in 2018 by his government after the proposal was passed by the cabinet, but he should also have clarified that the budget for the project had been sanctioned by the Congress government in 2019,” said Anand Jat, spokesperson of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh.
A day before the inauguration, Govind Singh, the leader of the opposition in the state, had held a press conference regarding the corridor. There, he had claimed, “The first phase of the project for the development of the Mahakal temple, worth Rs 300 crore, was presented to cabinet members and priests at a meeting presided over by Kamal Nath in August 2019. At this meeting, the project’s second phase outline was also discussed.”
Singh claimed that Kamal Nath had set up a three-tiered committee of ministers to ensure that the project progressed quickly. Sajjan Singh Verma, the minister in charge of Ujjain at the time, as well as P.C. Sharma and Jaivardhan Singh, the minister for urban development, had been members of this committee.
“It is all documented. We are not just racing to take the credit. Mahakal knows all the facts, so there can be no hide and seek,” said Singh.
“The Kamal Nath government had also allocated Rs 156 crore for the Omkareshwar temple,” Singh added.
A worthy accomplishment?
The Mahakal Lok corridor traverses the temple’s expanded premises and includes a holding plaza for the main temple. The murals on the walls narrate tales of Shiva from the Shiva Purana and at 900 metres long, the corridor is exactly three times the length of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor.
According to a government note, the main attraction of the first phase of the project is a 200 metre-long pedestrian path to the temple, which is flanked by a wall 25 feet high and 500 metres long on which murals have been painted. This path is a part of the corridor around the Rudra Sagar pond that has been revived and restored. The Harsiddhi temple, the Char Dham temple and the Vikram Tila have all been refurbished and 108 Shiva Stambh (pillars), which show Lord Shiva in various forms, have been completed.
Just as the Kashi Vishwanath corridor was inaugurated a few months before the February-March 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, so also was the high-profile first phase of the Rs 800 crore Mahakal Lok corridor project inaugurated less than a year before the 2023 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh.
The government has committed to finishing the project’s second and last phase between 2023 and 2024. It is anticipated that this big religious project will rank high on the list of accomplishments and promises that the BJP will make in the run-up to the assembly elections.
Kashif Kakvi is a journalist with Newsclick.