Minority communities and representatives of tribal people see it as a religious conversion event
The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh has diverted massive public resources to spruce up physical infrastructure ahead of a major Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) programme in the State this weekend.
The three-day ‘Maa Narmada Saamaajik Kumbh' is being organised by the Dharm Jagaran Vibhag (Religious Revival Department) of the RSS from February 10 to 12. The RSS hopes to mobilise tribals in large numbers from all over the country.
According to Home Department officials who spoke to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, the State government has allotted a whopping Rs.250 crore to the Mandla district administration for developing new roads, repairing existing ones, and ensuring uninterrupted drinking water, electricity and health services during the kumbh in this backward tribal-dominated region.
Though he disputed this figure, Mandla Collector K.K. Khare acknowledged that the State administration was pitching in to ensure that the RSS event went off smoothly. The total funds allotted to various departments in the context of the kumbh were Rs.38 crore, he told The Hindu.
The RSS programme has raised concerns among minority communities and representatives of tribal people, who see it as a religious conversion event. And some in the administration are also worried. Reconversion events such as the ghar vapsi (return to the home-religion) were “certain to be held during the three-day kumbh” and might cause tensions, an official said.
The RSS itself will be spending Rs.6 crore on food, Rs.2 crore on tents, and about Rs.1.5 crore on stationery and promotional items such as religious lockets for distribution among the Adivasis.
Police sources said the RSS had made arrangements for 3,000 buses to bring in tribals and Hindu devotees from all over the country to Mandla.
The tribal Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) and Christian religious leaders have expressed concern over the event and have approached the State government for security arrangements.
“The kumbh, which has no place in tribal cultures, is being used by the RSS to bring tribals under the fold of organised religion. Moreover, we have proof that part of it is being financed with money meant for tribal welfare,” GGP general secretary Amaan Singh Porte told The Hindu.
Two public interest litigations filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court have alleged that massive public money has been diverted for the event by the ruling BJP government, and have requested the court to stop the kumbh from being held.
“In the name of a social event, RSS activists have been delivering hate speeches, distributing inflammatory pamphlets and calling for reconversion of tribals in the region,” said Father Anand Muthungal, spokesperson of the Madhya Pradesh Catholic Church.
However, Inspector-General (Balaghat range) C.B. Muniraju said tight security arrangements had been put in place and there was no need for worry.
“We are watching people and all sensitive areas, including minority areas, closely. A force of 4,000 constables, four SPs, eight Additional SPs, 30 DSPs, and 150 inspectors and sub-inspectors have been deployed as part of the security arrangements,” he said, adding: “There is no communal angle to this event and I am sure everything will go on smoothly.”
According to local news reports, propagandist pamphlets about the activities of missionaries and posters bearing pictures of Mother Teresa and B.R. Ambedkar with inflammatory messages were being distributed among tribals and Dalits by activists volunteering for the event.
The event is a follow-up of the Shabri Mahakumbh held in the tribal-dominated Dangs district of Gujarat in 2006 under the leadership of controversial religious leader Swami Aseemanand, who was recently connected to the Samjhauta Express blasts.
The meet forms part of a series of such “social congregations” planned to be held over the decade by the RSS along the tribal belt running from the West to the East, as was publicly stated during the Gujarat event.