The ancient ashrama vyavastha prescribes that a man, on crossing 50, should think of renouncing familial liabilities and undertake a journey to the forests (vanaprastha) in search of finding the Self. The puranas also say the punya (divine blessings) one gets by sending someone off on a pilgrimage is far greater than what can be earned by going oneself.
The combination of a few such wisdoms and the big picture reality is perhaps what has led to Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s new pet project. For over the next one year, he proposes to send one lakh elderly persons on all-expenses-paid pilgrimages, the expenditure to be borne by the state exchequer. The CM’s endeavour, for now, does not look like it is aimed at reserving a place for himself in the heavens. He has more mundane objectives in mind; assembly polls are less than a year away. What can be a better way to win over the electorate than sending the family elders on free pilgrimages?
The MP ‘Mukhyamantri Teertha Darshan Yojna’ has so far benefited 2,000 people, who have gone on state-sponsored trips to religious places like Rameshwaram and Ajmer. “Going on a pilgrimage is a spiritual need for our elders. By taking them on a teerth darshan, we are trying to honour them... express our gratitude,” Chauhan tells Outlook.
The state machinery has been busy in this regard, even signing an MoU with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd for the scheme. Pilgrimage centres in the scheme are Haridwar, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Amarnath, Vaishnodevi, Amritsar, Puri, Varanasi, Ajmer, Sammet Shikhar (Jharkhand), Dwaraka, Shirdi, Gaya, Tirupati, Rameshwaram and Velankanni (Tamil Nadu), Shravanabelagola. The government has sanctioned Rs 39 crore for the first phase.
Lest it be charged with imposing a Hindutva agenda, the BJP regime has ensured that at least one centre of pilgrimage of all the minority communities is included. Thus, there is Ajmer for the Muslims, Amritsar for the Sikhs, Sammet Shikhar and Shravanabelagola for the Jains and the Basilica in Velankanni for the Christians.
The first train left Bhopal on September 3 amidst great fanfare for Rameshwaram. BJP leader L.K. Advani, who flagged it off, described Chauhan’s regime as ‘Ram rajya’. The CM entered the coaches, hugged pilgrims, touched their feet, invited comparisons with Shravan Kumar (the ideal son in Hindu mythology). The next trip was to Ajmer and again the CM was at hand at the station to see off the pilgrims.
Till March-end next year, every week a special pilgrims train will leave from a city of the state. Sixty special trains are expected to take over 60,000 pilgrims to different destinations by then.
The pilgrims are, obviously, over the moon. Quoting an Urdu couplet, “Iraade roz bante hai, bigad jaate hai...wahi Ajmer jaate hai, jinhe Khwaja bulate hai”, 62-year-old Himayat Beg of Ratlam says, “My wish to visit Ajmer remained buried in my heart but thanks to Shivrajji, it has been fulfilled”. Adds 74-year-old Chandra Kala, “We have had two boons: first is the pilgrimage and second, a son like Shivraj. We had never thought that we will be able to go to Rameshwaram and take a dip in the sacred kund.”
The Opposition, though, hasn’t taken to the scheme quite as much. LoP Ajay Singh was scathing in his criticism. “The yatras are only to make Shivraj popular. The government’s duty is to take up social welfare schemes like electricity, drinking water etc. By ignoring the basic problems of the poor, Shivraj is not earning punya, he is doing a mahapaap,” he says.
Then there are others who see the scheme as yet another manifestation of the Sangh parivar’s penchant for feeding the people with the “opium of the masses”. “If, instead of sending 1,000-odd Muslims to Ajmer, Chauhan had implemented the Sachar panel report, it would have benefited us much more. But then, right from its janmabhoomi andolan days, the party and its leaders know only one way to get votes—tapping into the religious beliefs of people,” says a Muslim poet. Shailendra Shaili, secretary of the local CPI unit, remarks, “Even God would have been happier if the government had spent the money on saving the thousands of children who die of malnutrition every year in the state.” Unfortunately, there’s not a prayer for that.
Apropos The Moksh Wagon (Oct 8), why doesn’t Shivraj Chauhan send elderly Christians to Velankkani down south?
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Why chouhan didnt send old christians to
'vellankanni' down south?
No need to comment on the second barrel of this gun,which is blazing away.These people must be really agitated , and more write-ups can be expected in the Outliik , Carry on friends is all one can say.
Separation of Church and State - just not possible in Desh - whether you are pseudo-secularists or a communal.
What label do I get, I just want the State to focus on - roads, and primary education (note I am not even adding power, healthcare, etc. for the moment). I am OK with even just one focus - roads (why roads over education? If our roads get to a place to cut down commute by say 50% of present commute, it will boost productivity, boost economic output, save on fuel and then all that can be pumped into education).
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