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Delhi as fodder for Punjab polls

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By Sidharth Mishra

Medieval poet and Bhakti movement saint Ravidass must not have ever thought that seven hundred years after he departed from this planet, his name would go ‘viral’. The elections in India are capable of bringing back anything from the deep dungeons of history to the surface making it part of political discourse, as happened in the case of Sant Ravidass last week.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Tuesday night last week that in Delhi, government offices would remain shut as a public holiday has been declared to celebrate Ravidass Jayanti. This sent Delhi into quiet turmoil specially the managements of schools and colleges.

The educational institutions which have opened after a long hiatus remaining closed for months together first on account of Covid then pollution and then Omicron variant, twiddled thumb on what to do as it was not very clear if the schools and colleges too have too remain closed. This also gave rise to the query who Sant Ramdass was, whose birthday was suddenly sought to be celebrated by Delhi government.

It did not stop at Arvind Kejriwal, the television cameras flashed Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the Ravidass temple in the national Capital and joining the ‘Bhajan Mandali’ in singing paeans to the Bhakti saint. In his constituency Varanasi, where the followers of the Ramdassia sect assemble to celebrate their founder’s birthday, all arrangement had been made to felicitate the pilgrims.

Like several other sects which came out of the Bhakti movement, so is the Ramdassia sect and like others they too celebrate the anniversaries of their founders and other leaders with great pomp and show. However, why such huge attention given to them this year.

It’s because of the elections in Punjab, where the Ravidassias are present in large number and form a cohesive sect guided by the priests of their ecclesiastical headquarters at Dera Sach Khand in Jalandhar. Sant Ravidass, who belonged to an untouchable caste, had travelled to Punjab and is said to have met Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The Sikhs consider him to a Bhagat (follower) of Guru Nanak and thus Ravidass’s poems find place in ‘Adi Granth’. However, Saint Ravidass’s followers consider him to be a Guru and his successors to be living Guru.

This has led to strained relationship between this sect and the hardliners among Sikhs. They being smaller in number, like any marginal population, are better organized and united about their political rights. Thus all the efforts by players of Punjab politics to woo the community for their en bloc vote. If Mr Modi went full steam ahead singing ‘Bhajan’ and extending hospitality in Varanasi, Kejriwal did what he does best, declare holiday with the drop of hat in the hapless schools and colleges.

How farcical was the whole exercise was evident from the fact that while the government offices, schools and some colleges were forced to shut, the government-operated liquor vends remained functional doing brisk business. The larger question is, can Delhi be made the sacrificial goat at the altar of Punjab elections.

The Ravidassias in Delhi have been celebrating their Guru’s birthday for more than a century now, taking out processions, singing Bhajan and organizing other festivities without really hampering the pace of the city. Here we have a government, which sought to bring the city to a grinding halt to strengthen its political strategy in another state. The government would do well to spare the student community, which has suffered due to closures in the past two years, from being used as fodder in the political warfare.  

(The writer is Author and President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice) 


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