Elections

In Chhindwara, Ram Is Not Only With BJP, Congress Claims Him Too

In the high-pitched battle of Chhindwara where senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son Nakul Nath is fighting for his second stint, Ram denies to leave the field

In Chhindwara, Ram Is Not Only With BJP, Congress Claims Him Too
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“Jo Ram ko laye hai, hum unko layenge,

Humlog phirse BJP to Jitayenge”

If one stays for a few hours in Chhindwara- a city in the Mahakoshal region of Madhya Pradesh- it is difficult to miss this song. The campaign tableau of BJP’s candidate Vivek Bunty Sahu consists of three things- a large poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his own portrait in folded hands and a loudspeaker that promises to elect those who welcomed Ram.

In the high-pitched battle of Chhindwara where senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son Nakul Nath is fighting for his second stint, Ram denies to leave the field. As one walks through the popular Shivaji chowk in a breezy evening, the lights, sounds and evocation of ‘Ram’s naam’ from a makeshift stage gives a sense of festivity.

The saffron festoons, Jai Shree Ram flags and banners celebrating Navaratri may be mistaken for a BJP campaign. But a few metres away, the king-size poster of Kamal Nath with Ram in bows and arrows clear the clouds of confusion. The poster reads- “Heartiest greetings of Ramnavami, Chait Navaratri, Baishakhi, Gudi Padwa and Hanuman Janmotsab to my religious brothers and sister- Kamal Nath”. Though Eid was just around the corner, the poster conspicuously forgot to mention it.

“This time, the BJP might claim the credits for Ram Mandir across India, but in Chhindwara, they would have to talk about something else as we are all ‘Ram Bhakts’,” says a senior district-level Congress leader who has been an aide of Nath for decades. These words are almost echoed by Nakul Nath around 80 km away from the city. Addressing a small rally of around 250 people at Sikheda village in Sausar, Nath-scion says, “If they say that they have made the Ram Mandir, tell them that every brick of it is bought from our donations. Don’t let them take the credit of what they haven’t done.”

The mood of Ram Mandir could be sensed even in the faraway village of Sagoniya. Around 100 km away from the city- on the other side of the hilly terrains of lower western ghats, the Adivasi-Dalit dominated village is adorned not only with the saffron flags of Jai Shree Ram but also has a Ram Mandir. “We don’t know when the Ram Mandir was built here. But we know that it has been there since forever,” says Prembhan, the sarpanch of the village. Talking about the connection of the village to Ram, another villager adds, “He is our pehchan, our identity.”

Sitting at his small courtyard besides the sacks of wheat that they have recently reaped and are about to sell in private market as the government wouldn’t give them the promised minimum support price due to its ‘bad quality’- Ayodhya Prasad Dahariya, in his 80s, says, “I collected donation from this village for Ram Mandir. We paid Rs 100, 200, 500- whatever we could.”

However, their eternal connection to Ram Mandir if makes one think that they are BJP supporters, Dahariya clears the confusion. “We have been supporting Congress for more than four decades. I joined the party in 1968 and used to go for canvassing to the interior villages where no leader could ever reach.”

Chhindwara seat is considered to be Congress’s bastion where Kamal Nath has never lost the election in last 45 years barring 1997. “We are all followers of Kamal Nath. He has done so much for us. He paid my hospital bills amounting to Rs 6 lakh when I had a major accident,” says Ravinder Dahariya, a villager in his early 20s.

Such inclination towards Nath, however, doesn’t take away his love for Ram or Ram Mandir, rather it intensifies his faith in Hindu religion and its gurus. As a follower of Bageshwar Baba- the controversial Hindu priest whom Kamal Nath invited to Chhindwara just before the assembly elections last year- he says, “Since I joined Baba Bageshwar’s Dham, I left non-vegetarian foods and liquor. Now I feel much better as he taught us the ways of life.” Without any hesitation, he continues, “Have you seen the Muslim-dominated area of Amarwada? It seems like ‘mini-Pakistan’. As in Pakistan wherever you go, you would find Muslims, this place is just like that,” he adds while tearing a packet of countryside ghutka- the only addiction he has held on to since he came in touch with ‘Bageshwar Baba’.

While Nath has always been very assertive about his religious identity, it became evident during the last assembly elections when during an interview he proudly said that it was none other than Rajiv Gandhi who made Ram Mandir a reality by opening its gate and ending the status quo. “He is a known Hanuman Bhakt,” says the Chief Priest of the Hanuman Mandir that Nath built up in 2015. However, the senior Congress leader always maintained that it is a matter of his personal faith and has nothing to do with his politics.

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Back in Chhindwara, the rally of BJP president J P Nadda as covers the air with the slogans of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ in presence of the CM Mohan Yadav, it doesn’t seem to be a merely religious slogan - it sets the party’s electoral agenda. Coming from Ubegaon, 25 km away from the city, a BJP supporter Subimal Sahu says, “On January 22, we celebrated the consecration ceremony like anything. It was our moment of victory, joy and celebration.”

Against this backdrop, where Ram is everywhere and the opposition camp is not shying away from claiming him, Ravinder laments, “Politics should not be mixed with faith. Ram is our faith and Kamal Nath is our politics.” Again, the slogan strikes the crowd – ‘Jai Shree Ram’.

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