In a move that is both political as well as metaphorical, Varanasi’s Kabir Chaura Math has become the electoral headquarters of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is camping here for the final phase of the assembly elections on March 7.
On March 3 morning, the maze of lanes that wind their way to Varanasi’s Kabir Chaura Math wore an almost deserted look, ostensibly due to security arrangements for the Congress leader. Normally, some 500 people visit the shrine of the 15th-century mystic poet-saint daily, according to Math management.
Some Math members spoke about the musical programme that was being organised for “Priyanka Didi” in the evening at the shrine, the biggest pilgrimage place for Kabir devotees from across the world. While “Kabir is said to have lived 120 years, he spent 119 years here,” Math's spokesperson Omesh Kabir told Outlook. “This is Kabir Ka Ghar. Everyone is welcome here irrespective of their political ideologies. Kabir bitterly fought hypocrisy and orthodoxy.”
While veteran Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have also stayed at this Math during the freedom movement, poet Ravindra Nath Tagore too visited this place.
Having made the Math her camp Priyanka Gandhi has made a political statement against the rising majoritarian politics. Kabir, the radical poet who spread the message of social justice and equality, has a large number of followers especially among the Dalits in Purvanchal. The constituencies that are going to poll in the seventh phase have a significant Dalit population.
The Congress manifesto titled “Unnati Vidhan” has a considerable focus on the Dalits and the Most Backward Class. Outlining several caste-based welfare initiatives, it also promises to appoint a Dalit as the state's Home Minister, and give sub-caste reservation to people belonging to the members of the Most Backward Class.
Kabir is equally respected among liberal artists and writers as the saint-poet represents the composite culture of Ganga–Jamuni Tehzeeb. The Math is surrounded by the houses of several reputed artists who represent the famed Banaras Gharana. Priyanka visited some of these artists, took a boat ride in the Ganga and offered prayers at the banks.
Omesh said that political leaders from almost all the parties visit the Math. “Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s younger brother was here earlier this month,” he said.
Commenting on Kabir’s philosophy, Vyomesh Shukla, a local theatre artist who was one of the organisers for the evening event, said, “Had Kabir been in Pakistan today, he would have been executed for blasphemy. And had he been alive in India today, he would have got lynched for his radical views.”
“The most significant thing about Kabir is that he teaches us self-scrutiny and self-criticism, which is quite rare in today’s world,” he added.
A flex banner in the shrine’s premises read, “Kabir sahab ka naam le rahe nakkalon se saavdhaan (Beware of the imposters who are using Kabir’s name).”