Following MP government’s decision to nominate five religious leaders to a committee to create awareness about conservation of Narmada and grant Minister of State (MoS) status to them, another religious figure on the committee has offered to quit as he feels “humiliated” at being “put on a par with controversial figures”.
“I was surprised to find my name on the committee because my consent was not taken. I object to being bracketed with controversial figures, barring some exceptions. I feel humiliated because I have been put on par with those controversial figures,’’ said Swami Akhileshwaranand, who is also chairman of the executive council of MP Cow Conservation Board.
Before granting MoS status to Computer Baba, Yogendra Mahant, Mahamandleshwar Hariharanand, Narmadanand and Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, the state government had named them on a seven-member committee to create awareness about tree plantation, water conservation and cleanliness, especially along the Narmada, with Akhileshwaranand and Pradeep Pandey of MP Jan Abhiyan Parishad as its other members.
Even before the committee could hold its first meeting, the decision to grant MoS status to the religious figures invoked criticism from many quarters, especially because Computer Baba and Yogendra Mahant had threatened to expose the Shivraj Singh government’s claim about planting 6.6 crore saplings along the Narmada, and its failure to check illegal sand mining and cow slaughter. The two dropped their campaign and claimed they were satisfied because the government had entrusted them with the responsibility to clean and conserve the river.
Akhileshwaranand, who already enjoys MoS status, did not take names but said he won’t be able to continue as member of the committee. “Being an RSS activist, I was associated with VHP and cow protection. I am not disinterested in Narmada conservation, but cow protection is my primary duty. I have never been involved in any controversy and never associated myself with controversial persons so I am feeling uncomfortable,” he told The Indian Express.
Pandey said he was not aware of Akhileshwaranand’s offer to quit. Asked about the committee’s first meeting, he said since their nomination, all religious figures have been busy.
After the row over the MoS rank, Indore-based Bhaiyyuji Maharaj has said he won’t accept government facilities that come with the rank. Narmadanand, the youngest religious figure, has said he was yet to take a call on accepting facilities like vehicle or accommodation.