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U.P.: Giving in to save the government

Ram Prakash Gupta government in Uttar Pradesh is on a new drive. After being reduced to a puppet in the hands of party leaders, Gupta has been trying to assert himself. In his endeavour he has found a new ally, the all powerful Sadhus and Sadhvis of powerful temples in the state.

To be true, the state is being run by these sadhus and priest in different temples of the state. Each of them is law unto himself and wield considerable influence in his own area. The way Ram Prakash Gupta is trying to placate them at any cost shows their reach to higher echelons of power. The senior RSS worker, who went on to become chief minister of state by sheer luck and the internal difference of the senior BJP leaders, sees them as the last resort to save his government for some more days. Everyone is sure that his days in the office are numbered, but the failure of the BJP leaders to reach a consensus name has ensured his continuance in the office after removal of Kalyan Singh from the post. The BJP was given a severe snub in the recently held Panchayat election. It has also reduced his chances to continue in the office any more.

In this discouraging circumstances the beleaguered chief minister has found a new ally in sadhus of Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. He has grabbed the opportunity without giving any thought to what it might amount. The chief minister is ready to give any concession and go to any length to hold their trust in order to save his chair. First the chief minister granted, in a bid to woo the VHP leadership, a 45 acre land to Sadhvi Rithambra’s Param Shakti Peth on Mathura-Brindavan Highway for a token amount of Re. 1. After a very short time there was another news that Ram Prakash Gupta has allotted a plot of 5000 sq. meter on Lucknow -Rai Bareilly road for Re 1 to the Bhao Rao Deoras Sevanivas of the RSS. Bhao Rao was the first head of the RSS in the state. Both the plots are very costly. Specially the plot on Lucknow-Rai Bareilly road is very costly and its market rate is in millions of rupees. These are not the random instances. Acres and acres of land have been granted to unknown trusts and ashrams in a bid to woo sadhus and mahants. 

Plot that was presented to Bhao Deoras Sevanivas is next to prestigious Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute for Medical Science in Lucknow and was owned by Department of Irrigation. Officers of the department are agitated over the blunt misuse of power. This land could not be given to anybody but for influencing these people chief minister went out of his way. It is not the whole story. The chief minister who introduced the UP Religious Places Bill to harass minorities and discourage them to build their religious places has repealed the UP Hindu Religious Places (prevention of misuse) Act 1962. The decision was taken in a meeting chaired by Gupta himself on 26 July.

The saints, a number of them alleged to have grabbed several acres of land in the guise of religious place mainly in Ayodhya and Hardwar, had been putting pressure on Gupta for a long time to get this act repealed. They have even boycotted the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ganga Raksha Yatra on 26 July.

This step-nullifying of the Act will have far reaching consequences as from now on the state government would have no say in lands under Hindu religious places and trusts. In a bid to avoid any controversy the CM assured that a new bill will be introduced and it would be limited to Hindu religious places. Ashok Singhal played a crucial role in forcing the CM to get the Act withdrawn. It was on his insistence that Gupta went to Hardwar to assuage agitated saints. He assured them that he would repeal Act within three months. He did so even faster.

The storm began to brew, when UP minister for culture and religious affairs, Ramesh Pokhriyal issued a notice announcing implementation of 1962 law that would bring under an official scanner activities and finances of the state’s religious leaders, trusts and bodies. 

The law popularly known as Dharmada Bill was passed by Govind Ballabh Pant’s government nearly four decades ago. Under this act an annual survey is conducted of various temples, trusts and religious organizations to ensure proper utilization of funds and check any non-religious activity by these organizations. Pokhniyal decided to pull the law out of cold-storage and teach a lesson to recalcitrant religious heads who had been continuously frustrating his attempts to get Hardwar and neighbouring Hindu Pilgrimage sites in the new state of Uttaranchl. He is a vocal supporter of inclusion of these places in the proposed state. But many mahants and mahamandaleshwaras and even a couple of shankaracharyas have opposed his idea as it will upset the status quo that is favourable to them. At last these leaders got the act repealed. But to their horror, the new state passed in the Lok Sabha includes Hardwar.

In the absence of this Act it will be a free for all in the community of saints. Fights among their followers will intensify over the possession of the land under religious places and trusts. Ayodhya is already known for bloody violence among followers of different saints for possession of trusts and religious places. It will only increase with repealing of this act. 

The person who introduced the UP Religious Places Bill to contain the minority activities in the state and brought burial grounds and cremation places too under it is doing the opposite with another community. The mass agitation of Muslims in the whole state and other parts of country could not impress the chief minister to act to repeal the Bill he introduced in the house. The bill that was not even confirmed by the president was being implemented forcibly. The same chief minister has given in under pressure from a handful of mahants to repeal act that was in force for last four decades. Are there any takers for these blunt misuse of power?

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