New Delhi: The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has called for the Kumbh Mela to continue at Haridwar in Uttarakhand, despite the town having recorded over a 1,000 Covid-19 cases in the last 48 hours.
VHP vice-president Champat Rai also told ThePrint that the mela cannot be equated with the Tablighi Jamaat event at the Markaz in Delhi’s Nizamuddin as the latter, according to him, was not a religious function.
Comparisons have been drawn between both events as the Markaz, held in March last year, was deemed a super spreader at the start of the pandemic while the media reaction to the mela, in the middle of a second Covid-19 wave, has been relatively muted.
“The Kumbh is a very old and traditional festival,” Rai said. “In its organisation, learned mandaleshwars and shankaracharyas are involved. Rules should be followed but it’s a Hindu religious festival that is organised every 12 years. There is no need to restrict the festival; we just need to follow Covid guidelines.”
VHP joint secretary Surendra Jain was even more emphatic, slamming those comparing the mela with the Jamaat event.
“There are three differences between the Tablighi Markaz and the Kumbh,” he said. “The Kumbh is a religious function unlike the markaz, which was an authoritarian event to demonstrate Muslim hegemony. The second difference is that the Kumbh has government permission and is not a hidden affair. The Kumbh is also a religious function and it is a festival of astha.”
“Comparing the Kumbh with the Markaz is like comparing Gangajal with dirty water of drains,” he added. “There is no need to restrict and curtail the Kumbh as it is happening with the blessings of the dharmacharya.”
The VHP backing for the event comes a day after Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat made it clear that the Kumbh will continue.
Rawat had Tuesday also said that the Kumbh Mela can’t be compared to the Nizamuddin Markaz.
“They (Markaz attendees) were all inside a building and here it is out in the open,” Rawat had told reporters. “And this is near the Ganges. The flow and blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure that coronavirus does not spread. The question does not arise of a comparison.”
One more major bathing dip to go
Under normal circumstances, the Kumbh Mela is held for four months but this year, it is being marked between 1 April and 30 April.
So far, two of major bathing dates, or shahi snans, have been completed, while a third is to be held on 27 April, when several lakh people are expected to take a dip in the Ganga.
Uttarakhand cabinet minister Banshidhar Bhagat told ThePrint that the state does not expect much of a crowd on 27 April.
“The two most crowded shahi snans are over and we don’t expect that big a crowd on 27 April,” he said. “But it is a religious and traditional affair and so, it is not possible to restrain the crowds as it is held after 12 year. We can only ensure that Covid guidelines are followed.”
Despite the state government claims, pictures of devotees and sadhus roaming without masks and even the mandatory Covid-19 negative certificate has become normal in Haridwar.
“There is a severe violation of Covid norms at the mela despite efforts to enforce guidelines as the administration has been focusing more on crowd management,” Haridwar Chief Medical Officer S.K. Jha told ThePrint.
A senior Uttarakhand BJP leader told ThePrint that Chief Minister Rawat is being driven by political considerations.
“Despite the risk of Covid spreading, we can’t ignore religious sentiments, particularly when the state is heading for polls next year,” the leader said.
“The chief minister is making religious heads and institutions happy. He first assured them that he would revoke the law of his predecessor, Trivendra Singh Rawat, to regulate 51 shrines and temples and now he has allowed the Kumbh to be held. If he had restricted participation in the Kumbh, it would have had a severe political fallout.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)