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Feb 08, 2013 at 12:04pm IST

FTN: Should Mahakumbh Mela be used for politics?

The RSS chief while speaking at a gathering of the VHP at the Mahakumbh hinted at support to Narendra Modi as the PM candidate of the BJP, saying, "everyone is speaking the same thing about who should be the PM". Sagarika Ghose discusses with a panel of experts whether the Kumbh Mela should be used for politics.

Below is the full transcript of the show:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there. The Maha Kumbh Mela today in Allahabad became the venue for politics. At the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Dharam Sansad being held at the Kumbh today, members of the sadhu samaj came out in support of Narendra Modi as prime minister. And in a significant endorsement RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also praised Narendra Modi and the Gujarat model of development. Should the Kumbh Mela, a site of faith, a place for the united colours of India, be used to play politics? That's our Face The Nation debate.

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Joining us tonight Yogeshwar Tiwari, professor, Department of Modern History at University of Allahabad. Joining us Badri Narayan Tiwari, professor and social historian and anthropologist at Allahabad's GB Pant Social Science Institute. We are also hoping to be joined by Rahul Easwar, spokesperson of Sabarimala Temple.

Yogeshwar Tiwari, the ringing endorsement of Narendra Modi today at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Dharam Sansad - is the Kumbh Mela the place to play this kind of politics, as you have so wonderfully described Kumbh as united colours of India, is this the venue for politics?

Yogeshwar Tiwari: Certainly no is my answer. And if I may add, a new mantra through your channel that 'dharm ki rajneeti sai sagai mat karo, vaastav mai to dharma ki rajneeti sai talaq hona chahiye'. Religion should be divorced of politics. And therefore whatever is being said here, on the banks of sangam, I think it is against the spirit of Kumbh.

Sagarika Ghose: So the Kumbh is contrary to the politics. Badri Narayan Tiwari do you think Modi is trying once against to become the Hindutva icon by using the Kumbh? Is this a politician making use of the rich spirituality that is there at the kumbh?

Badri Narayan Tiwari: Sagarika if you see the history of the BJP, they always use mela as a political space. Like last Kumbh Mela in 1989, they started the Ram Janam Bhumi. This time they are using the space for making Modi as a hero. They always forget they people are religious, but at the time of election they become political. And there they are transforming this religious space to a political space, but people would not like it. They are trying to make Modi a symbol for those who are not in the mela, those people who are in the mela they don't like this transformation of religion into politics. For them there are various kind of choruses going on and this is one chorus, so they don't pay much attention to it but media and those who are looking how politics is going on, they are paying attention this kind of thing.

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very interesting point, anyone who has been at the Kumbh know even the 2007 Dharam Sansad that the VHP had, there also the VHP was an ignored small part of the entire Kumbh. People who were at the Kumbh barely paid any attention. But in the eye of the camera and outside the Kumbh, it was as if the VHP has taken over the Kumbh. So you are very right about the reality that exists within the Kumbh and what is seen outside the Kumbh. But let me bring in Rahul Easwar, spokesperson of Sabarimala Temple - should the sadhu samaj play a role in politics? Should sadhu samaj endorse Modi? Should the sadhu samaj say that if only Modi will build Ram Janam Bhumi? Should sadhus perform a political role?

Rahul Easwar: Sagarika three points, if you look at the history of India all our acharyas have said there are two dimensions to our faith, one is spiritual another is social. I mean social and not political, but there is a social and spiritual dimension to all our melas. Second point, even though they don't take active political role. If you check the independence history of India we can see sadhus and fakirs coming together for sanyasi rebellion against British. You can either interpret it as a political ploy or you can say it is national freedom struggle. And the third point, even though one particular camp, or party need not to be endorsed, some policies can be told, and if there is a BJP spokesperson in this panel I would like to ask him, when Ram Jethmalani said, "there is no Ram, and Ram is a bad husband" I didn't see many voices from BJP attacking him, or countering him. As a normal Hindu my feelings were outraged. So I believe if BJP is serious about Hindutva they should consistently pursue it. And if there is a BJP spokesperson I would like him to condemn Ram Jethmalani.

Sagarika Ghose: Let's not go into the Ram Jethmalani controversy, but Yogeshwar Tiwari is the Kumbh the place for Hindutva? Is the Kumbh the place for an ideology that is political manifestation on religion, or is the Kumbh just about meditation and spirituality?

Yogeshwar Tiwari: Sagarika you are very right and I fully endorse your view that Kumbh is not the place. Kumbh has a history, a history which is very long, a tradition that we have cherish. And this tradition and this history that we have shared is not what these people are doing here. They are maligning that sanatan, that samatan what it stands for, the sanatan which is all inclusive. That sanatan which even Akbar ,who build such a massive fort here at Allahabad, wished to communicate. And what did he want to communicate... he communicated that inclusive philosophy of India that one should be in peace with all. And there at this Kumbh where one is coming to seek that spiritual attainment, that rejuvenation that he seeks about 12 years and 6 years. You are mixing politics here. This is the sangam of ideas. It is spiritualism that one is seeking here, and one is rejuvenated here. And from here he goes and travels for next 12 years. And for those 12 years he seeks that vitality, that urja that you call it in Sanatan dharma. And here what are you giving him, that same mundane feeling, those same mundane thoughts, of which he is fed up of. He has come here to freshen himself , to rejuvenate himself and the strengthen his umbilical cord.

Sagarika Ghose: Rahul Easwar respond to that, when a spiritual place becomes a political place than are you not doing a terrible disservice to the pilgrims, if Sabarimala became a place of politics.

Rahul Easwar: Sagarika I agree with your point but please listen to this very carefully. Ritualistically we first have to go to a mosque before coming to a temple but when some political parties, when they are in power, when they said Sabarimala is not even a Hindu temple, we are left helpless, we are left alienated. The majority of India always believes in secularism but there are some parties on the other side, who have the arrogance and audacity to say that Ram didn't exist. The normal Hindu feels alienated and if that normal Hindu goes to a political party, you can't blame that normal Hindu.

Sagarika Ghose: So you are saying that the Hindu religious centers have become politically partisan. Let me just put a point to Badri Narayan Tiwari, Badri what Rahul is also saying is sanyasis and priests have been part of politics, they have led rebellion, they have been part of the freedom struggle. The sadhu samaj has been part of politics, so the difference we are trying to make between politics and sadhu samaj is not there in India.

Badri Narayan Tiwari: Actually what Rahul is saying, there are multiple traditions of mela in our society. One mela which he is talking, which is linked with Ganashas, and this kind of sadhu politics. But there are other melas, like the Kumbh Mela which is a simple religious reflection of common people. It has nothing to do with the memory of politics. But here they are linking politics with mela and that is very bad because you are disturbing the whole history of the mela. Because this mela is linked with the myth of Brahma.

Sagarika Ghose: And do you think there may be damage in the long run? The Kumbh Mela may be damaged in the long run if more and more politics is played?

Let's bring you some twitter feedback. Soumitra Kandpal is writing, "As citizens of India, Sadhus have every right to voice their opinion."

The Circuslion writes, "Even the Church does the same in West. Mature democracies do have multiple influence centres.

Rakesh Gupta says, "Whenever Sadhus and Sants have come forward for a cause, 'Bharat' always got a new Vision and new life."

So a lot of positive repose to sadhu samaj's involvement to the politics. And what is wrong if the sadhus are involved in politics. Rahul you wanted to come in.

Rahul Easwar: Sagarika the most religious man in the past was the most secular man, and he was the most political man, he was the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi. He believed in Ramraj and said that this is kingdom of god. This Ramraj is same as Prophet Mohammed (SAW) kingdom. And remember it was a sadhu who was father of the notion of the modern India, it was Swami Vivekananda, so these people should engage in nation building.

Sagarika Ghose: But Yogeshwar Tiwari it required a Gandhi...

Yogeshwar Tiwari: I would like to counter what he said. Mahatma Gandhi never came to propagate, and establish who should become the prime minister of the nation. He didn't come here to endorse the candidature of someone whole he wished. And I would like to add that every place has its own. The sanctity of the place sangam and the occasion of Kumbh has its own meaning, it is salvation, it is realization of 'atman' which will connect him to the 'brahman', which will rejuvenate his umbilical cord. How would you like if we take bhakta mandali in Parliament and do a chorus there. In Parliament we will be discussing political matters; we will be discussing debates on nuclear deals and budget. So these places should be excluded from politics. And may I add to my friend about Sabarimala, I would like to add, 'Jitni dekhi duniya, sab ki dulhan dekhe taka mai, koye kaid masjid mai, koye soye shivalaya mai, kisko apna hath thamadu, kisko apna man dadu, koye loota andharia mai, koye thaga ujala mai'. Those people who are indulging in this, I think, they should stay away from such a sacred place which is so dear to Sanatanies.

Sagarika Ghose: The place where the Sanatan dharma flourishes is not a place for politics, is not a place to declare who the prime ministerial a candidate is. Badri you want to come in?

Badri Narayan Tiwari: Sagarika what Rahul is saying about politics and sadhu, the kind of politics Mahatma Gandhi was pursuing, and about the sadhus which he was talking... they were not taking about electoral politics, they were talking about the politics of social changes. But here what they are doing is projecting Modi as a prime ministerial candidate and resolving the internal politics of BJP. They are doing the work of BJP here because BJP is not able to resolve its own contradictions. Here VHP and RSS are trying to impose their narrative on the BJP. And the kind of opposition of projecting Modi as prime ministerial candidate, you can see in Kumbh Mela, many sadhus are opposing. Today I was in the mela and no one was looking at Modi's posters. So people are not interested in Modi, they came to worship.

Sagarika Ghose: Do you feel there is a conflict with the kind of politics...

Badri Narayan Tiwari: Yes there is a conflict. There are multiple voices in the mela but media is only projecting Modi.

Sagarika Ghose: There is a conflict in sadhu samaj, that is a very important point that you are making. What Badri is saying is that you can't play electoral politics, you can play moral politics. But this is votebank politics.

Yogeshwar Tiwari: Sagarika about whom we are talking about, when the need of the hour came during our freedom struggle, they did join hands with people, they gave a great message, but not political electoral. And today Ganga is again being sullied. I am appreciative of those sadhus like Muni Ji Maharaj, who are cleansing the Ganga.

Sagarika Ghose: It is a very good point that you have made and that are very insightful comments that have come out that when politics has intruded with religion, it is moral politics, it is a politics of direction, not electoral politics, not party politics.

Badri Narayan Tiwari: Sagarika religion can be helpful in politics, the kind of politics they want to do, but it can also go wrong. It will not always work like Ram Janam Bhumi.

Sagarika Ghose: It will not always work like Ram Janam Bhumi. Thank you very much indeed, Yogeshwar Tiwari, Badri Narayan Tiwari and Rahul Easwar.