The blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure there will be no corona,” then chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, had declared in April. This was after he had replaced Trivendra Singh Rawat who was abruptly removed by the BJP high command. The bone of contention was about his green-signalling the Hindu religious festival of Kumbh Mela during the global pandemic, on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar.
The Kumbh Mela is a significant event held once in twelve years. More than nine million people took the holy dip in the Ganga this year, according to the organisers. Reportedly, the BJP high command had sought to install a new chief minister in the state, someone who would organise the event on a grand scale. The ‘festival of immortality’ was allowed to go on without strict Covid protocols.
As the pilgrims returned to their hometowns after attending Kumbh, the country was ravaged by a deadly second wave of Covid-19. As per estimates, nearly 2.05 lakh Indians died of Covid-19 between March and June.
Are Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand and India’s disastrous second wave merely parallel but unrelated events, as the BJP supporters claim? Or was it the primary super spreader event, as the critics claim? Regardless of what supporters, critics and experts think, it is perhaps important to know what people from Uttarakhand felt about this year’s mega religious gathering?
This is what Prashnam did this week. Nearly 2,000 registered voters of Uttarakhand across all districts were sampled in a scientific, randomised and stratified manner, and asked two questions:
Q1. Kumbh Mela was held in Uttarakhand in April this year. What is your opinion about this?
- It was necessary to hold the Kumbh Mela this year
- Kumbh Mela should have been cancelled this year due to coronavirus and it was irresponsible to hold it
- Don’t have a view
Q2. Who do you hold responsible for the decision to hold Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand despite the coronavirus situation this year?
- Modi sarkar is responsible
- State government is responsible
- Both are equally responsible
- Don’t have a view.
‘Irresponsible’ to hold the Kumbh Mela this year
Contrary to the belief that the Kumbh had support of the locals, the Prashnam survey findings show that a whopping two-thirds (68 per cent) of people in Uttarakhand thought it was wrong and irresponsible to organise the Kumbh.
Even in Haridwar, which was the centre of the Kumbh Mela, a large majority of people thought it was irresponsible to hold the event in their town. Only Chamoli, Garhwal and Rudraprayag districts showed a slightly higher support for the event. But even in these places, only a quarter of the residents supported it. Overall, there is massive resentment and displeasure among people in Uttarakhand over the Kumbh Mela this year.
State, Centre almost equally responsible
An overwhelming three-quarters of the surveyed population blame either the state government or both, the state, and the Narendra Modi government, for the decision to hold the Kumbh Mela this year. 15 per cent of them held the Modi government solely responsible while nearly 40 per cent blamed the state government solely.
It is evident that the people of Uttarakhand are unhappy about holding the Kumbh Mela. This is in direct contrast to the popular belief that the Kumbh was held in accordance with the wishes of the people. It remains to be seen if people in other states are more supportive of the Kumbh Mela or equally disapproving.
Readers may recall that in an earlier survey of six Hindi states (did not include Uttarakhand), voters had blamed the ‘Modi government’ and ‘destiny’ for Covid deaths. For the specific act of holding the Kumbh Mela in the time of Covid, unhappy voters in Uttarakhand blame the state government more but a significant number hold both the state and the Modi government equally culpable.
Prashnam, in keeping with its principles of transparency and integrity, makes available the entire raw data of this survey for analysts and researchers to verify and analyse further.
Rajesh Jain is founder, Prashnam, an AI technology start-up that aims to make opinion gathering more scientific, easy, fast, and affordable. Views are personal.
The article is part of ThePrint-Prashnam Vox Pop series.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)