The three-day Samajik Samrasta Snan at the Simhasta Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, to be held from May 12 to 14, will see several RSS functionaries and BJP president Amit Shah take the holy dip in the Kshipra River on May 13. This year, there are many Dalits and tribals who have been invited to the Maha Kumbh. Among the invitees, a special welcome has been extended to the tribal artistes from Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur and the Panchmahals to put up a “grand spectacle” showcasing the culture of Gujarat’s tribal communities for three days. On the concluding day (May 14), PM Narendra Modi will visit the Kumbh Mela.
Celebrated tribal performer Bharat Baria and his co-dancer Akshay Patel have been specially instructed to perform the Shiv Tandav, one of Modi’s favourite performances. Baria and Patel are preparing to travel to Ujjain for their three-day schedule. Baria says that the invite to perform at the Maha Kumbh came from Pilot Baba, president of the Shatdarshan Sadhu Mandal in Ujjain, who is the co-organiser of the event that will see the presence of PM Modi, Shah and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Baria says, “On May 12, we will put up a dance show on Shiv Bhakti and Shiv Tandav. On May 13 and 14, which includes the visit of PM Modi, we will be showcasing Gujarat tribal cultures.”
While political and social analysts see this move as a “desperate attempt” by the BJP-RSS combine to woo Dalit and tribal votes ahead of the upcoming assembly polls, including Madhya Pradesh.
Dr Ganesh Devy, who helped set up the Bhasha institute in the tribal belt of Gujarat, feels that the religious practice should remain “open” regardless of political benefits.
Devy says, “If any religious practice opens up for all castes, it is a welcome thing. But to get tribals to get to perform dance there (at Kumbh) is like asking Hindus to dance for a church ceremony. Because these people depend on the government for patronage and since they do not have other way to showcase their art, they will do it. Unfortunately, their art is not appreciated. To invite them as artistes and then to put them into a religious context, is unfair. Why don’t they (RSS-BJP) actually help open up temples for women and scheduled castes?”
Devy feels that even though the ruling party may want to leverage this chance to woo Dalit voters in states, it will not better their chances in states outside MP. “In MP, the government feels shaky and this is an attempt to bring the Dalit and tribal votes together. I do not think this will improve their chances in Uttar Pradesh,” he says.
Baria, who has been a regular performer at Modi’s events since he was the chief minister of Gujarat, feels that breaking away from the caste system is the best thing to come out of the Kumbh. Originally from the Panchmahals in Gujarat, Baria says, “I am very happy that this year the caste system seems to have been abolished at the Maha Kumbh. It is a big achievement that tribals will take a dip with the other sages and leaders of the upper-caste. I am not sure if this is for a specific reason. Politics is above all this. We should look at the message of unity that comes across from this.”