Haridwar: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sacked the former Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh from the post for insisting that the Kumbh Mela be restricted in view of rising COVID-19 cases, reported The Caravan.
At a time when second wave of COVID-19 infections ravaged the country exponentially rising the fatalities, lakhs of people converged on the River Ganga as a part of the Maha Kumbh Mela, a religious congregation held once in twelve years.
While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and some Uttarakhand cabinet ministers wanted the state to host a “bhavya” (grand) Mahakumbh with minimal COVID-19 restrictions in place, Trivendra insisted on a “pratikatmak” (symbolic) festival, a dozen Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, mahants of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP) and various officers associated with the Haridwar Mahakumbh revealed in an exclusive report by the Caravan.
“Kumbh was allowed to happen because the Uttar Pradesh polls are in the next eight months. It made no sense to annoy a friendly ally just a year before elections,” a senior BJP leader is quoted as saying in the report. The ‘ally’ here referred to the akharas, which are militant ascetic orders and wield immense influence in Hindu communities.
The friction between Rawat’s idea and that of akharas might have cost him the job, the leader opined. He recalled that the Prime Minister had once said in a meeting that “akharas should not be upset with the preparations.”
Caravan’s report also quoted Uttarakhand BJP spokesperson Munna Singh Chauhan who said that this perception “may hold some ground,” and that there could have been a complaint from the akharas.
In meetings held in early 2020, it was proposed that the preparations of the Kumbh should proceed irrespective of the looming dangers of the pandemic, the report mentioned. “It was concluded that the preparations for Kumbh Mela will be done,” Narendra Giri, president of Niranjani akhara was quoted as saying.
“If the cases rise, we would see that then and there.” Narayan Giri, a spokesperson of the Juna Akhara, who had attended atleast 50 meetings said, adding that it became clear to him that “the government was trying to postpone the Kumbh fair.”
He said, “Certain vidharmi (heretical) “people who do not believe in Dharma, give excuses of COVID-19 and have the communist mentality … they wanted to hinder the Kumbh fair.”
Further, Narayan said that the state government wanted them to follow COVID-related protocols, which made mahants contemplate a truncated event. “But mahamantri ji”—Hari Giri of the Juna Akhara—“was adamant that our traditions and culture should be duly followed and there should be a proper Kumbh,” he said.
Subsequently, in December 2020, the ABAP released a statement strongly objecting to the Uttarakhand government’s stance. They declared that the akharas will organise the Kumbh on their own if the Uttarakhand government does not cooperate.
On 9 March, just days before completing four years as the chief minister of the state, Trivendra resigned. When asked for the reason behind the abrupt resignation, he told reporters, “You will have to go to Delhi to find out why.” In his resignation, he cited a “collective decision” made by the party.
Tirath Singh Rawat replaced Trivendra, but all the major decisions about Kumbh are directly overseen by the Centre. While the ministry of culture and tourism fund it, the PMO oversaw the preparations, the report said, quoting a senior IAS officer aware of the developments. Several BJP leaders seconded that. And Tirath Singh Rawat too consistently refused to accept that the Kumbh was a super-spreader event.