Staring at possible anti-incumbency in his constituency Karnal apart from the rest of the state, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has taken refuge in sant politics in recent months. From renaming his official residence after mystic-saint Kabir Das and holding grand statewide celebrations on the occasion of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s 400th birth anniversary to unveiling a Krishna statute and celebrating the birth anniversaries of Sikh icons Makhan Shah Labana and Baba Lakhi Shah Vanjara, the CM has been on a spree celebrating the deities, gurus, and icons of all religious communities.
The scale of such public celebrations has been unprecedented. The government has roped in social organisations for community service and spent large sums of money to publicise such events, leaving no stone unturned to convert the religious events into grand occasions. All these events recognising the achievements of the Gurus and sants and promoting their ideologies are being organised under the government’s “Sant-Mahapurush Vichar Samman and Prasar Yojana”.
In April, Khattar said during the celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s 400th birth anniversary that Haryana shared a special bond with the Sikh Guru as “he commenced his journey to Lohgarh from Jind district, which once was the capital of the Sikh state”. Calling the Sikh Guru “the greatest humanitarian this world has ever seen”, the CM said the youth in Haryana had a lot to learn from him. He also requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to include important historic places in Haryana connected to Guru Tegh Bahadur in a travel list for devotees.
“To preach the message of communal harmony and brotherhood, the Haryana government is paying tributes to the religious gurus, saints, and martyrs by organising public meetings, functions, and seminars across the state”, Khattar said.
Last month on the eve of Kabir Jayanti, Khattar said the CM’s official residence would be known as “Sant Kabir Kutir”. Making the announcement in Rohtak at a state-level function, he said, “Sant Kabir Das ji was a strong supporter of religious unity. He gave the message of love to mankind. His followers are promoting his ideals even today. His teachings are the heritage of society”.
Khattar also announced that the education department would set up libraries in educational institutions and dharamshalas (rest houses for devotees) run by disadvantaged communities, and 75 per cent subsidy would be provided for the installation of 5 KW solar plants at such dharamshalas. The CM also said free railway tickets would be given to people travelling to Banaras, the birthplace of Kabir, and announced that an institution in the state would soon be named after the mystic-saint.
On Friday, the state government was set to celebrate the birth anniversaries of Baba Makhan Shah Labana and Baba Lakhi Shah Vanjara. A big event was scheduled to be held at Kurukshetra’s new anaj mandi (grain market) in Thanesar with Khattar as the chief guest. Government officials said the CM was expected to make several announcements for the followers of the Sikh icons.
In a recent statement, the state government said, “The chief minister says that he has taken up the pledge of ‘Haryana Ek-Haryanvi Ek’ on the lines of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Prayas’ slogan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The state government is ensuring that people from all walks of life are duly acknowledged and brought on the same platform.”
The Opposition has not taken on Khattar and BJP over its religiosity drive. “Although everybody understands the reasoning behind such events and the political significance, the Opposition cannot criticise the ruling party on such issues,” said a senior Opposition leader. “Religious issues are extremely delicate and it is a good thing if the government recognises all the communities rather than promoting only one religion or culture. However, such actions cannot deflect the public’s attention from the core issues of importance, be it deteriorating law and order, unemployment, price rise, or poor health and education infrastructure.”