Showing Its Hand

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Doubts, if any, of an underlying political agenda in the disproportionate expansion of the Amarnath Yatra since the nineties should have been dispelled by the BJP’s recent memorandum to the union home minister. Apart from being an exhaustive list of mostly impossible demands, it is also a foreword of the new turns the party has geared up to give its politics of communal populism. The memorandum also betrays the sangh parivar’s pernicious hand behind the exponential growth of the pilgrimage which would have been difficult to achieve without a vast grassroots machinery committed to spiritual hard-sell. No strangers to milking faith for political dividends, the BJP and its affiliates have been nurturing the yatra issue quietly so far to serve as a fall-back plank. But resistance to some of its plans have forced them to show their hand, perhaps prematurely. The long-term objective is to scale the pilgrimage up into an event with unmistakable overtones of national identity. (The memorandum’s reference to yatra numbers swelling to around ten lakh in the coming years speaks eloquently of the design). Once propelled into the ranks of the Kumbh Mela in importance, the yatra makes for an excellent and emotive campaign point for mass mobilisation in view of inevitable opposition in Kashmir. The yatra would then not only be a matter of faith, but also the sign post of national integration – a combination hard to beat among masses easily swayed by appeals to patriotism and religion. The parivar may have its own strategy to circumvent coalition compulsions; but then again it may be running to some other timetable where it foresees no such inconvenience.   

The saffron juggernaut’s calculations have been receiving institutional shots in the arm all the way, marked not the least by unprecedented intervention by a division bench of the country’s apex court. After the state chiefs of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Shiv Sena castigated the government for deaths during this year’s pilgrimage, Justices Chauhan and Swatantar Kumar (those of the Pathribal Verdict fame) had no choice but to take suo moto notice of “media reports” and issue clear-cut directives to the Jammu and Kashmir government to get its act together. In a string of orders, paying lip service to environmental concerns, the division bench has actually advanced the sangh parivar case with its references to facilities, infrastructure and means of access. Its directives for medical facilities of a specified nature to be made at specific leave one in no doubt of the actual drift of the drift and purpose of the judicial intervention. Surprisingly, Justices Chauhan and Kumar, so adept at taking suo moto notice of “media reports,” appear to have heard nothing of graphic accounts of large numbers of yatris proceeding on the pilgrimage without legitimate medical certificates. What has also escaped the learned bench is that providing forged medical certificates is one of the more lucrative practices built into the massive event, obviously manned by the acolytes of the sangh parivar with more than tacit patronage from its highest leaders. 

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