Govt Funds for Hindu Festivals Is the Latest Attempt by the BJP to Politicise Religion
Happiness: In a seemingly blatant attempt to use the state apparatus to promote Hindutva and formally network it with the state bureaucracy, the Uttar Pradesh government has ordered District Magistrates (DMs) to organize temple events, including the recitation of Durga Saptashati and Ramcharitmanas during Chaitra Navratri and Ram Navami festivals.
All DMs will each receive Rs 1 lakh for payment to artists performing at the events, according to the order issued on March 10 by Mukesh Meshram, chief secretary of the state culture department. The order was also sent to all departmental commissioners. Meshram denied that these programs were being held for the first time in India’s largest state.
Former Prime Minister Akhilesh Yadav lashed out at the state government, saying a minimum of Rs 10 crore should be given for celebrating festivals of all religions, as Rs 1 lakh for artists’ fees is too little.
The Hindu religious festivals coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, which is expected to start on March 22, depending on moon sightings. Ram Navami is celebrated on March 30th.
The events, conducted at government (public) expense, mark a new chapter in the religion that fits seamlessly into district-level administration. The rain of petals from choppers on Kanwariyas (Shiva worshipers) during the month of Saawan used to make headlines.
For the BJP, the hosting of roza iftar parties by the previous Samajwadi Party governments of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav was an “appeasement” of minorities, but it sees nothing wrong with publicly funding Hindu religious events. In fact, it is pushed as desirable. The Chief Minister announced last month and also tweeted that “Sanatan Dharm was India’s national religion”.
At BJP’s Samajik Pratinidhi Sammelan for the Lodh community in Lucknow in October 2021, Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that opposition parties used to compete to host iftar parties but imposed curfews during Hindu festivals. The shoe is now on the other foot, although the government won’t call it appeasement.
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The government’s bias emerges from the statement by UP Minority Commission Chair Ashfaq Saifi, who claimed that there had been “many complaints” about the local administration’s forcible removal of speakers from mosques. These speakers were installed in accordance with the Allahabad High Court decibel guidelines.
In a letter to UP chief secretary DS Misra, Saifi demanded that Muslims should be instilled with a “sense of security and harmony”. It remains to be seen whether the district administrations will ensure compliance with the decibel guidelines for avoiding noise pollution at the upcoming events.
Goswami Tulsidas’ epic Ramcharitmanas recently came under the spotlight for allegedly vilifying women and Dalits. Samajwadi Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya, who had previously called for the allegedly controversial passages to be removed, called the government the “enemy” of women, Dalits and tribal people for allowing the 24-hour recitation of “Ramcharitmanas”. His comments on “Ramcharitmanas” had also led to his being denied entry to a temple in Lucknow by Lord Hanuman.
Mukesh Meshram’s order mandates all local authorities to arrange the recitation of Durga Saptashati, Devi gaan (songs of praise to the Goddess) and Devi Jagran, which is a night-long affair. It is the first time that the government has organized Chaitra Navratri celebrations on this scale in the state.
Usually the recitation of the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ during Ram Navami is held in temples and in the homes of devout Hindus. The involvement of the state machinery in the festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ram sends a strong political message to Swami Prasad Maurya that the government will stand by the epic poem.
With general elections approaching in 2024, the move is also intended to ensure that the BJP does not lose any part of its OBC base.
The “Ramcharitmanas” dispute in the UP was started by Maurya in January this year with the aim of weaning Dalits and OBC votes from the BJP, which has significantly reduced the vote share of the Bahujan Samaj party and the Samajwadi party.
Atul Chandra is a former editor of The Times of India, Lucknow and an author.