‘Kanwariya ho ho ho ho’ – ‘Saawan special’ songs fashioned on 90s hit Bollywood numbers blaring from loudspeakers used to be a common sight at Kanwar camps in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh during the months of July and August. It was this time of the year when hundreds and thousands of Lord Shiva devotees took an arduous journey to Haridwar to fill their ‘kanwars’ and return home for ‘Jalabhishek’ at local temples. For Mahant Yogi Adityanath, who is also the CM of Uttar Pradesh, this would have been the best time to display his bond with his core support groups. From heavy bandobast to petal showers from the chopper, the usual events in UP would have kept the BJP upbeat – until the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Like last year, the Kanwar Yatra 2021 has been called off this year due to the Covid infections and the issue of a probable third wave. But unlike last year, when the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi held a virtual brainstorming session to voluntarily come to the decision, it required a strong nudge from Supreme Court to get states to cancel the Yatra.
Till the top court took the matter into its own hands, India’s most populous state had maintained that the Kanwar Yatra will be carried out with all devotees adhering to Covid protocols. The pressure was mounting on Uttar Pradesh after Uttarakhand said that the people’s lives are of paramount importance. Ultimately, the Yatra was called off. But is it all over? No, not really! Here’s why the cancelled Kanwar Yatra still poses a challenge for UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath:
1: One of the first reactions that the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister gave after the Kanwar Yatra was officially called off in the state was how society must ‘respect the spirit’ of Kanwar associations. He also said that matters of faith should be left to people. Political analysts say that in the run-up to the mega UP polls next year, the last thing the incumbent CM would want is any disturbed equation with his core constituents. Hence, it would be very crucial for Yogi Adityanath to implement the ban on the Kanwar Yatra on the ground.
2: One of the marked differences in the cancellation of the Kanwar Yatra 2021 was the way it happened. Why did the Supreme Court have to take a call? Why UP didn’t decide on the matter itself? On this, Tanmay Shankar, BJP media in-charge, Noida, says ‘UP mein sentiments bahut zyada hain’. However, he rebuffed the link between UP 2022 polls and Kanwar Yatra saying that even Uttarakhand is heading into polls. “The BJP is ruling there too. But UP is different. We needed to bring everyone together. People’s sentiments and religious beliefs can’t be dismissed. That’s why the UP government consulted everyone and took the call.” When asked what will happen on July 25 and what if people defy the ban, Shankar said that the UP government is strict and the administration will surely manage this well.
3: Even the Supreme Court knows how challenging it will be for local authorities to manage this. In its Kanwar Yatra order, the apex court has specifically told the officials to make sure no kind of Yatra is organised. While RSS insiders say that this is purely an administrative exercise and should be looked as such, the VHP wants the state governments in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to ‘rethink’ the Yatra ban. For Mahant Yogi Adityanath, this is a tightrope.
4: For the BJP, Kanwar Yatra or Kumbh Mela are part of the larger plan. Talking about the importance of such religious festivals, Dr Sanjeev Singh, former journalist and Professor at School of Modern Media, UPES says, “This is BJP’s way of signalling that it is looking after its core constituency. These are the ‘marquee events’ and will have a long-term impact beyond the 2022 election.” On Yogi Adityanath government’s initial plan of going ahead with the Yatra, Dr Singh says that ‘it could easily have been a double-edged sword.’ He adds, “in case the yatra was allowed and if it did lead to largescale Covid infections, it could have boomeranged for the Yogi government.” So apart from a possible administrative disaster, such a move could have a political fallout as well.
5: While no one at the BJP or anybody in the state government – either in Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand – will talk about it but the fact of the matter remains that the Kumbh has transformed the way India will see any largescale event. India has learnt a very tough lesson that any kind of mobilisation during the coronavirus pandemic will not only sow a viral infection in the hinterland but also cripple our already exhausted health infrastructure. In the backdrop of this, the Yogi Adityanath government knows that it has to manage the Covid situation in the state in a more stringent manner.