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Guess who’s the brides’ father?

If at all the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerges victorious in the Vidhan Sabha elections to be held in November this year in Madhya Pradesh, the credit will go to the social engineering, on which Shivraj Singh has been laying emphasis from the day he took over as the chief minister in September 2005. The chief minister and the BJP are aware that they could not solve the basic problems of the people during the 10 years of their rule, whether it is the field of education or health, civic infrastructure or power, and specifically the widespread problem of malnutrition, leading to high infant and child mortality rates. There has been a manifold increase in the crimes against women and the Dalits. Tribals and Muslims continue to live in miserable conditions.

If, despite these shortcomings, the chief minister and his party seem to be confident about the outcome in the next elections, it is because of their social engineering. The latest in the series of social engineering programmes were the mass marriages solemnised in different parts of the state.

‘Akshaya Tritiya’ is considered an auspicious day (tithi) for marriage. Normally, a large number of marriages take place on that day. Generally, the marriages are considered to be family affairs but Chauhan has converted it into social event. Even when he was not the chief minister, he used to arrange mass marriages. During that period, he himself used to raise the resources to finance the event, which he calls kanyadaan. After becoming chief minister, he made it a regular programme undertaken by the government. Funds are allocated by the government to local bodies, panchayats and non-government organisations to organise the event. This year, special efforts were made to ensure that a large number of mass marriages were organised. Most of the ministers left Bhopal to participate in the events at their constituencies on Akshay Tritiya, which fell on 12 May. Chief Minister himself attended mass marriage events at more than one place.

In the mass marriages, the government assumes the role of bride’s parents. As parents of the bride, the government gives gifts to every couple. The gifts include cooking gas connection, LPG cylinder, bed, utensils and other things, which are needed to start a married life. Besides the state-sponsored gifts, ministers, party MLAs and other leaders also shower handouts on the newly-married couples. Thousands of marriages have been performed in various cities and in some cases, even in villages. The occasions have been used by ministers MPs, MLAs and other leaders to eulogise the chief minister and the outstanding achievements of the government. Speaking at one such mass marriage function, Jayant Mallaiya, a senior minister said that the kanyadaan programme of the chief minister had helped the poor on a large scale.

He said that out of 1,100 couples who got married at the function, some were such who were reconciled to the fact that they would not be able to get married in their life. Though, originally, the mass marriage programme was described as kanyadaan, but then secular thinkers pointed out that state funds were being used to advance the cause of a particular religion.

In view of the mounting criticism, the MP government came out with the clarification that kanyadaan included nikah – the name of the Muslim religious wedding ceremony. Besides mass marriages, another important programme of social engineering is the scheme under which people are taken to various places of religious importance. The government bears the entire cost of the pilgrims who take advantage of the programme. The state government charters special trains. Pilgrims are taken to various pilgrimage centres in these trains. Once a person boards the special pilgrims’ train, all amenities including breakfast, lunch and dinner are made available by the government. The place to stay and local transport are also arranged by the government. Many elderly women and men going on pilgrimage become emotional and start blessing the chief minister profusely.

They say that what the chief minister was doing for them had not been done by their sons and daughters. Originally, only Hindu places of pilgrimage were included in the scheme. But later on, Muslim and Christian places of pilgrimage were also included. Big hoardings announce the event, whenever a special train leaves with 1500-odd pilgrims on board for any place of pilgrimage. Many questions are being raised about the scheme, a prominent one being whether a government constituted under a secular Constitution can divert its financial resources to patronise religious activities?

The BJP government in MP has given Hindu religious names to many of its developmental schemes, thus giving the impression that MP has already become a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Madhya Pradesh chief minister not only uses government’s financial resources to promote Hindu religious activities in the state he is financing such activities in other countries too.

The main opposition Congress does not object to such activities, which undermine the letter and spirit of our Constitution. Perhaps, it is fearful of hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindus. There are some secular groups that raise their voice but they are ignored. The BJP leadership knows pretty well that religion-oriented programmes will help it swell its vote bank. IPA
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