In an attempt to reach out further to the Dalit community, in line with the strategy of the party and its ideological parent, BJP chief Amit Shah Wednesday took a holy dip with some Dalit sadhus in the Kshipra river at Valmiki Ghat in Ujjain.
However, the confusion and apprehension among the sadhus, as well as a section of Sangh leaders, seemed to have overshadowed Shah’s symbolic gesture.
Shah, initially scheduled to take the “Samrasta Snan” (social harmony bath) along with sadhus from backward communities at Ram Ghat, the main ghat, had to change his plan at the last minute due to protests from a section of sants and Sangh leaders. According to them, such a move would have sent a wrong message — that Dalits had so far been restricted from taking a holy dip. Another section alleged that sadhus from upper castes had objections to Shah’s gesture of harmony with Dalits at the main ghat.
Deendayal Vichar Manch, a saffron outfit, had earlier announced that Shah would march 1.5 km with Dalits to Ram Ghat and take a dip there as part of the month-long Simhastha Kumbh.
The BJP president, in an ostensible attempt to sidestep all confusion and controversy, however, did not refer to Dalit sadhus in his speech. Addressing sadhus at a makeshift tent near Valmiki Ghat, Shah, accompanied by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, said, “The BJP is the only party that believes in strengthening Indian culture and fosters the feeling of world as one family.” Extending tributes to sants and sadhus on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said with this, he has taken the holy dip in all four Kumbhs — Hardwar, Nasik, Allahabad and Ujjain.
But Umeshnath of Valmiki Dham, who addressed sadhus and followers of Valmiki Akhara, did not hide his concern over divisions in the society. Pointing out that Lord Ram had embraced a lower caste person during his exile, Umeshnath urged them to “do away with caste lines and unite the nation”. Appreciating Shah’s “courage” in taking a samrasta snan at Valmiki Ghat, he said: “The real courage will lie in reflecting this in mind, action and commitment…. Sants do not belong to any community. Let all sants resolve that they will work towards a caste-free society.”
Besides Chouhan, BJP general secretaries Kailash Vijaywargiya, Anil Jain, vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe also accompanied Shah in taking the dip. Along with them were Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad head Narendra Giri, Juna Akhara Peeth’s head Awdheshanand, Valmiki Dham’s Peethadheeshwar Umesh Nath, and several sadhus from Valmiki Akhara. Shah, along with Chouhan and his wife, later served food to sadhus at a programme — Samrasta Bhoj.
Controversial saffron leader Sadhvi Prachi was also present at the function.
Not all sadhus, though, were happy at the political tone given to the Kumbh Mela. While the venue on the Kshipra’s banks had banners with pictures of Chouhan, advertising his government’s initiatives and welcoming the devotees, a sant belonging to a backward community said: “Samrasta snan may send a message but this politicisation is not good. Kumbh does not have any caste, and people do not look at caste of those who come here. But they want to take political mileage from it.”
The samrasta snan comes in the wake of RSS and the BJP organising a series of programmes to woo Dalits. While the government has held several programmes to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, the RSS had asked its volunteers across the country to adopt at least one Dalit family, to interact with them, dine with them, and work with them to bring them into the mainstream.