clearn.png
Monday October 14th, 2019 7:13AM

India's gov't boosts massive Hindu festival, eyeing election

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

PRAYAGRAJ, India (AP) — India's Hindu nationalist-led government is splashing out on a religious megafest, spending unprecedented sums as part of a strategy to focus on the country's majority Hindu population ahead of a general election due this year.

Both the central government in New Delhi and the government of Uttar Pradesh — the north Indian state where the Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, is taking place beginning this week — are controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which espouses the view that India is a Hindu nation, despite the religious diversity of its 1.3 billion people and the secularism enshrined in its constitution.

The Kumbh Mela is a series of ritual baths by Hindu sadhus, or holy men, and other pilgrims at the confluence of three sacred rivers — the Yamuna, the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati — that dates back to at least medieval times. Pilgrims bathe in the river believing it cleanses them of their sins and ends their process of reincarnation.

The event, which UNESCO added to its list of intangible human heritage in 2017, is the largest congregation of pilgrims on earth. Some 150 million people are expected to attend this year's Kumbh, which runs through early March.

The Kumbh rotates among four pilgrimage sites every three years on a date prescribed by astrology. This year's festival is of the type that occurs every six years. The BJP-led governments are spending about $650 million, more than triple the public money spent in 2013 on an event that was religiously far more important because it happens only every 12 years.

"The vision of the government was to make sure that the Indian heritage, the Indian culture, the Kumbh heritage which actually personifies what India is, is shown to the entire world," said Vijay Anand, an Indian civil servant and the head Kumbh official.

At the entrance to the Kumbh, and throughout the 3,200-hectare (7,907-acre) fairgrounds, the faces of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh's chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, himself a Hindu monk, appear on posters touting government rural electrification projects, stipends for cooking fuel and pipe-borne water.

Kumbh money has been deployed to widen roads, construct a massive temporary city with free tents and portable toilets for pilgrims, monitor more than a thousand CCTVs and construct a new airport terminal, where builders' scaffolding remained at the beginning of the festival.

It has also been spent on a marketing blitz that included a dramatic, minute-long ad broadcast on CNN, and on a Modi-directed promotional push at India's 190-plus embassies abroad.

The Uttar Pradesh government directed local administrators to display a new logo with the tagline "Sarvsidhiprad Kumbh," which in Sanskrit, the language of Hinduism, means "Kumbh is everything," on publicity materials and on screens at movie theaters after India's national anthem is played.

In Prayagraj, constant Hindu chants blared over loudspeakers throughout the grounds. The air was thick with smoke from cooking fires, incense and hashish, which sadhus smoke ritualistically.

In time for this year's Kumbh, Adityanath led the charge to change the city's Mughal-era name from Allahabad to Prayagraj, part of a BJP Muslim-to-Hindu name-changing effort nationwide to "connect the current generation to our glorious past, and to erase the deep scars of subjugation that have badly injured our cultural psyche," according to party spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao.

Adityanath's government also changed the name of Faizabad district to Ayodhya, after the ancient city where Hindus believe the god Ram was born, and has echoed Modi's 2014 election campaign pledge to build a Ram temple at a site where Hindu hard-liners destroyed a 16th-century mosque in 1992.

The Supreme Court recently assembled a five-justice bench to hear petitions regarding ownership of the disputed site.

India's government has gradually withdrawn spending for other religious groups, including a subsidy scheme for Haj pilgrims, following a 2012 Supreme Court order that cited an article in the constitution that prohibits "taxes for promotion of any particular religion."

Dr. Surendra Jain, the international secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Organization, a Hindu nationalist group allied with the BJP, downplayed the religious orientation of the Kumbh.

"The Kumbh is a pot which is able to contain many things, so our concept of Kumbh is all-inclusive," he said, adding that "when Hinduism is promoted, obviously humanity is promoted. The values which we call the ideals of India are the values of Hinduism."

To be sure, it's not the first time Indian politicians have capitalized on the Kumbh to invoke their relationship to the country's Hindu ethos. For years, the central government has given the sadhus a boost.

In 1954, the Congress party-led government injected the Mela with nationalist objectives, timing Republic Day celebrations to take place during the Kumbh and setting up booths on family planning and public health, according to Australian academic Kama Maclean, author of the 2008 book "Pilgrimage and Power."

When Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, former Congress party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law, entered Indian politics in 2001, newspapers featured photographs of her in a sari wading into the Ganges during the Kumbh, symbolic of her adopted Hindu heritage and the washing away of her foreignness, said political commentator Arati Jerath.

Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party leader and Sonia Gandhi's son, has been visiting Hindu temples across India in the run-up to the vote, and is planning to take a dip at the Kumbh, party officials have said.

"Obviously the BJP will use this to drum up Hindu support. Congress is trying to move into that space as well, but (the Kumbh) can't be an election issue because this election is going to be fought on economic grounds," she said, adding that Indian voters "can tell the difference between a festival and their own economic reality."

But for some Kumbh pilgrims, Hinduism belongs at the forefront of Indian elections.

"This is a very important fight," said Reva Goyal, a 49-year-old homemaker from New Delhi. "And in this, politics and religion are mixed. I feel the BJP government has done a lot for us, and should come back into power."

Narendra Giri, the head sadhu at the Kumbh, said the government's arrangements and facilities for the religious festival would "obviously affect the election," and that while previous governments had also adhered to the "guest is a god policy," the BJP's performance this year had outdone them all.

___

Associated Press videojournalist Rishabh R. Jain contributed to this report.

___

Follow Emily Schmall at twitter.com/emilyschmall

___

This story has been corrected to show that Jawaharlal Nehru was leader in 1954, not Indira Gandhi.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Election News, AP World News
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rules in 13 states
A U.S. judge in California has blocked Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, D.C
3:39AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Aretha Franklin honored with star-studded tribute concert
Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion and more took the stage to relive some of the late Aretha Franklin's biggest hits in a tribute concert
3:30AM ( 20 minutes ago )
India's gov't boosts massive Hindu festival, eyeing election
India's Hindu nationalist-led government is splashing out on a religious megafest, spending unprecedented sums as part of a strategy to focus on the country's majority Hindu population ahead of a general election due this year
3:30AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Yemen, Iran, Khashoggi murder top Pompeo's talks in Saudi
Pompeo in Saudi Arabia for Mideast crises talks: Syria, Yemen wars, threats from Iran, murder of journalist Khashoggi
1:59AM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump says US will hurt Turkey economically if it hits Kurds
Trump says if Turkey attacks US-backed Kurdish forces fighting in Syria, the US will 'devastate Turkey economically'
1:29AM ( 2 hours ago )
2020 Democratic primary set to intensify
With final preparations under way, 2020 presidential primary season ready to explode
12:47AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The shutdown today: Ally presses Trump to reopen government
The shutdown today: Ally presses Trump to reopen government
8:15PM ( 7 hours ago )
Graham urging Trump to reopen government for a few weeks
A Republican lawmaker close to Trump says he's pushing Trump to reopen government for several weeks to continue negotiating with Democrats over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall before taking a more drastic step
8:13PM ( 7 hours ago )
House GOP leader vows action against King over race remarks
The top House Republican says he will discuss Rep. Steve King's future in the party and take action after the Iowa congressman made remarks in defense of white supremacy
5:55PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
UK's May warns Brexit deal rejection would be 'catastrophic'
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May has pleaded with lawmakers to accept her deal for leaving the European Union, warning that faith in democracy was at stake
12:50PM ( 15 hours ago )
Congo runner-up says country's ruling party is desperate
Congo's presidential runner-up Martin Fayulu, who is challenging his election loss in court, says the government deployed armed soldiers around his headquarters because of the ruling party's "desperation."
9:36AM ( 18 hours ago )
Former Obama housing chief Julian Castro joins 2020 campaign
Former Obama housing chief Julian Castro is now in the 2020 Democratic race for president, and he could end up being the only Latino in what's expected to be a crowded field of contenders
10:55PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections
Eyeing 2020, Harris addresses prosecutorial past in memoir
As she nears a decision on whether to seek the presidency, Sen. Kamala Harris is striking a delicate balance on what could be a hurdle in a Democratic primary: her past as a prosecutor
9:51PM ( 5 days ago )
GOP Sen. Roberts of Kansas says he won't seek re-election
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, the longest-serving member of Congress in Kansas history, won't run again in 2020, setting up a scramble to replace him in a GOP-leaning state where Democrats are energized by key victories in last year's midterm elections
6:28PM ( 1 week ago )
Speaker again, Pelosi sees 'new dawn' for 116th Congress
Cheering Democrats have returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker's post
12:18AM ( 1 week ago )
General Election News
Indonesia recovers Lion Air jet's cockpit voice recorder
Indonesia navy divers have recovered the cockpit voice recorder of a Lion Air jet that crashed into the Java Sea in October
1:37AM ( 2 hours ago )
Italian fugitive heads home to serve life term for murder
A left-wing Italian militant who was convicted of murder three decades ago is heading home to serve a life sentence, after his life as a celebrity fugitive came to an abrupt end with his arrest in Bolivia by a team of Interpol agents
12:16AM ( 3 hours ago )
Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea
Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea
12:09AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP World News
Judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rules in 13 states
A U.S. judge in California has blocked Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, D.C
3:39AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Indonesia recovers Lion Air jet's cockpit voice recorder
Indonesia navy divers have recovered the cockpit voice recorder of a Lion Air jet that crashed into the Java Sea in October
3:39AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Aretha Franklin honored with star-studded tribute concert
Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion and more took the stage to relive some of the late Aretha Franklin's biggest hits in a tribute concert
3:30AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Tensions rise in Zimbabwe's capital after fuel price hikes
Protesters block roads in some parts in Zimbabwe's capital after the government more than doubled the price of gasoline
2:55AM ( 55 minutes ago )
The Latest: Berdych beats '18 Australian semifinalist Edmund
Tomas Berdych sent 2018 Australian Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund home right away this year, beating him in straight sets
2:45AM ( 1 hour ago )