Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the silver jubilee celebrations of Akshardham Temple of the Swaminarayan sect in Gandhinagar, the head priest of Swaminarayan Temple at Vadtal in Kheda on Saturday appealed to the devotees to support the BJP in the Gujarat Assembly elections. He said the organisation is “forever indebted” to the incumbent state government.
The Swaminaryan sect has a large following among the Patidar community members. Mukhya kothari (chief administrator) of the temple Maharaj Ghanshyam Prasad Das made the appeal — in the presence of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and other BJP leaders — while addressing an event to mark the auspicious Kartik Poornima. The event was attended by around 1,700 priests from across Gujarat.
The Vadtal Swaminarayan temple, which belongs to Lakshmi Narayan Dev diocese of the sect, is headed by acting-Acharya Rakesh Prasad Maharaj. Referring to the preceding speech made by Rakesh Prasad, Ghanshyam Prasad said, “Swamiji has told us about the history and work of the Vadtal organisation as well as the help it has received over the years from this government. The Vadtal organisation will forever be indebted to this government. This means we have to pay back this debt. Right now, we have tied a safa (headgear) to Rupani saheb, but that does not pay for our debt. To pay for our debt we have to do a lot more. I want to make this certain and definite appeal to all the devotees who are sitting here, watching through the Internet or TV… The people are fortunate to have a king who is pure, people-loving and a visionary… We have such a king. It is Narendra Modi.”
Ghanshyam Prasad further said: “I never pray for myself (to God), but when I recite my prayers on the holy beads, each day of the 365 days of a year, I pray for the success of two people — Acharya Rakesh Maharaj and Narendra Modiji… Narendra Modi should win. It is my appeal to all the devotees of the Swaminarayan sect — for 15 years, this government has gone out of its way to help us, stood by the Vadtal organisation, assisted in all things big and small — remember, it is a truth-loving government. It is a corruption-free government.”
Delivering a short address, the Chief Minister said: “The Model Code of Conduct is in place and therefore, I shall not say much about the government. But, I must say that I visit Vadtal whenever I can. It gives me immense inspiration to be here.”
Later, in a press note, the BJP stated that priests of the eight Hindu pilgrimage sites in Gujarat have backed the party’s “vijayrath” for the upcoming polls due to its “development works”, including the development of the eightshrines.
Stating that “to preserve the culture of India, huge temples must be built”, the BJP statement quoted Rupani as saying, “A government is an instrument to serve (people). Since people look at this through the political lens, Prime Minister Narendra Modiji has said that ‘I am not a Prime Minister, but the pradhan sevak’. Similarly, I also state that I am not the king of Gujarat, but a servant of Gujarat.”
When contacted District Election Officer, Kheda, Kuldeep Arya said, “An event at a religious institution, where a person belonging to the religious institution speaks about a political party or makes an appeal to the people does not amount to violation of the Model Code of Conduct, prima facie. The rule states that if the place of religious worship is used by a political party for campaigning or putting up banners or symbols that amount to campaigning, then it would be a violation of the Code. The appeal made by the priest in his personal capacity is not a breach. However, we have videographed the event and we shall refer it to the Chief Election Officer for advice and further action.”