Raipur: On 15 December, the Congress Chief Minister in Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, inaugurated a ‘Godhan Emporium’ at Ambikapur in the state’s Sarguja district.
Apart from cow dung-based incense sticks, bricks, lamps and toys, the emporium also sells ghanjeevamrit, a manure that relies on cow dung and other natural products such as gram flour. The state government is now looking to replicate the emporium and has set its sights on opening a shop in the national capital of Delhi.
The move is being viewed as part of the chief minister’s strategy to dabble in ‘soft Hindutva’.
Since coming to power in December 2018, Baghel has launched a number of schemes revolving around the cow, rural areas and Lord Ram, taking the steam out of the BJP’s politics in the state and prompting experts to accuse him of indulging in ‘soft Hindutva’.
In July this year, for instance, the state government launched its Gaudhan Nyay Yojana (GNY), under which it procures cow dung for Rs 1.5 per kilogram.
Baghel has also announced that he will develop an ambitious Ram Van Gaman Tourist Circuit, which will revolve around the route believed to have been traversed by Lord Ram during his 14 years of exile. The state government is also set to build a massive Kaushalya temple at Chandrakhuri area close to capital Raipur. Chandrakhuri is considered as the birthplace of Lord Ram’s mother Kaushalya.
Such has been Baghel’s success with these projects that even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, has admitted admiration at the chief minister’s work.
A delegation of the RSS led by Bhuvneshwar Sahu, convenor of the outfit’s affiliate, Gau Gram Swawlamban Abhiyan, had even met the chief minister in July and volunteered free consultancy for the Gaudhan yojana.
“Our offer had nothing to do with the party in power but for the cause of farmers and cow owners as we have expertise in making vermicomposts,” Sahu told ThePrint.
“We also suggested increasing cow dung cost from Rs 1.50 to Rs 5 per kilogram but it was accepted partially and kept at Rs 2. We are still looking forward to another meeting with the CM on this issue but it has not yet materialised.”
BJP has tough task ahead, says RSS
Even though elections are at least three years away in the state, the RSS admits that the BJP will find the going tough in the state.
“Bhupesh Baghel government’s cow dung purchase scheme GNY and plans to develop the Ram tourism circuit are indeed two of the most welcome steps irrespective of the party in power,” RSS prant karyavahak Chandrashekhar Verma told ThePrint. “We have been persistently advocating for making good use of cow dung and the Baghel government has understood its worth.
“Although political benefits of GNY are yet to be seen, it is true that the BJP has a tough task ahead to safeguard its core agenda,” he added.
Another RSS functionary Ram Yadav echoed Verma’s views. “It must be accepted that Bhupesh Baghel and his government are doing good work in protecting cows, uplifting the rural economy and developing the trek traversed by Lord Ram,” Yadav said. “Lord Ram and his life are entrenched in the culture and tradition of the people here. Bhupesh Baghel has for now struck the right chord. However, it’s to be seen if GNY takes root and benefits all cow owners in the state.”
“Good work must be applauded and no one should have any issue with that,” Sahu said. “GNY is presently working in around 4,000 centres in the state. The Baghel government plans to open one at every village. The BJP must take counter measures to tackle it else it will be tough for them.”
The BJP, however, is unperturbed. “The Congress and its government in Chhattisgarh have suddenly developed love for the cow and Lord Ram’s legacy,” leader of opposition and BJP veteran Dharamlal Kaushik told ThePrint.
“But nothing is happening on the ground. Large numbers of cows are still seen on the streets dying of hunger while gothans are non-existent or non-functional.”
Soft hindutva, say experts as Congress sees nothing wrong
Experts accuse the chief minister of indulging in soft Hindutva but even they admit that the strategy is posing a challenge to the BJP.
“Baghel has apparently understood the tricks of the BJP’s politics. His decisions and policies are indeed a brand of soft Hindutva. Look at the timing of Ram Van Gaman, renovation of Kaushalya Temple and GNY. All are well synchronised with the Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya,” Uchit Sharma, senior journalist and political analyst, told ThePrint.
“Baghel has seemingly usurped the BJP’s monopoly on Ram and the cow in Chhattisgarh,” he added. “Even BJP leaders admit that Baghel’s politics will rob them of their core agenda in next assembly elections, especially if he is able to persist with it for a couple of more years.”
The ruling Congress insists that its strategy has nothing to do with Hindutva. “We don’t call it our version of Hindutva, for unlike the BJP, Lord Ram and the cow are not the subject of politics for the Bhupesh Baghel government,” the Congress’ media chief Shailesh Nitin Trivedi told ThePrint.
“Lord Rama is the Bhanja (nephew) of Chhattisgarh. The Baghel government has shown from its decisions that Lord Ram is only a matter of faith and reverence for us,” he added. “Our government has converted the legacy of Rama as a force of unity in society and development of the state.”
Congress spokesperson R.P. Singh said the government was only carrying out schemes it promised ahead of the 2018 elections.
“Every decision and plan of our government is aimed at delivering the goods promised to the people in 2018. But we have the right to brand and market our success,” he said. “The BJP is frustrated as it failed to deliver in 15 years. Dr Raman Singh (former CM) never visited the Chandrakhuri temple despite repeated invitations from the temple committee. Now he is crying foul.”
Baghel’s cow and Ram focus
One of the three schemes of Bhupesh Baghel government that has the BJP worried is the Ram Van Gaman Path, which is expected to cover 1,500 km in the state. The state government has promised to develop 75 tourist destinations at a cost of Rs 135 crore.
The government is also constructing the massive Kaushalya temple at Chandrakhuri at a cost of around Rs 15.75 crore.
Its most talked about scheme, however, is the Gaudhan Nyay Yojana or GNY. Since its launch in July, the government has disbursed Rs 64 crore to 1.40 lakh cow owners for the dung collected from them.
The dung, at present, is collected in around 3,726 government-run cowsheds, locally called gothans. The government has set a target to build around 7,800 gothans, which are also centres for manufacturing cow dung products.
Haresh Singh Mandavi, commissioner at the Ambikapur Municipal Corporation, told ThePrint that the newly opened emporium is an effort to market and sell products manufactured at the gothans.
“We are receiving a good response from people for most of the products available at the emporium. This includes cow dung cakes, incense sticks, specially prepared cow dung fuel wood and three well packaged different varieties of vermicomposts,” said Mandavi, who is also the nodal officer for the emporium.
“Plans are afoot to open a second emporium in Delhi. However, dates and other legal modalities are yet to be worked out.”