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Religion Chained

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Uttarakhand’s BJP Government might feel relief at the verdict delivered by the Nainital High Court on the Devasthanam Board, but this could prove to be short lived. In fact, it has the potential to become a political Tsunami if the opposition Congress gets its act together enough. The court has ruled on the legality of the Board, but the principle at stake is much higher – the extent to which the State can intrude into Religion. Carrying out its obligations towards the public and general safety issues in the Char Dhams is one thing, taking control over an increasing number of temples is quite another. Is the government contemplating managing the affairs of churches and mosques in Uttarakhand, too?
The BJP claims to be a party inspired by ancient Hindu philosophy but, unfortunately, too often its concept of religion in action is a muscular and imported one. It has the right to use this as a political ideology, but should not – Hiryanyakashyap like – try and impose it on the people. The protesting priesthood could do well – to underline the freedom to practice religion – by establishing, at some remote mountain sites, austere shrines to ‘Mukt Badri’ and ‘Mukt Kedar’, which genuine Hindus can pray at free of the oppressive cloud that exists in the ancient shrines, today.
Unfortunately, even as the BJP is in full election mode, the Congress lacks the imagination and energy to take this up as a public cause. The only leader with the required smarts is former CM Harish Rawat but he has been, more or less, left to his own devices by the party organisation. Ironically, he is being pilloried by the BJP for having ‘insulted’ the Ganga, even as the basic fundamentals of Hindu belief are being buried by the ruling party.
There is more than enough time for the Congress to raise the crucial issue of the Board before the elections take place. The BJP is not exactly on a safe wicket, because it has failed to fully utilise the advantage of a massive mandate. The inability to even appoint a full cabinet indicates the lurking factionalism within. Recent events have shown how the political masters and the bureaucracy are at cross purposes on a number of issues – be it an MLA being ‘insulted’ by a District Magistrate, or a tirade by a Cabinet Minister against officials on Wednesday. If such developments cannot be exploited by the Congress, it will only be because it lacks the sophistication an effective opposition ought to have. Otherwise, it could have been an interesting few months ahead.