It’s not black-or-white. The fact that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has appointed Narmadanand Maharaj, Hariharanand Maharaj, Computer Baba, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant as Ministers of State has enraged the opposition. The liberal section of the Hindu society might be amused while the advocates of Hindutva might feel they stand vindicated for reposing their faith in the BJP government of the State. Those who have been environmental or human rights activists for years together would say none of these reactions is close to the reality. The fact is that the water ecology of the country was messed up big time during the British rule when rivers became flowing dustbins for the garbage — including sewage and industrial effluents — of cities and towns on the banks. The creation of one dam after another fiddled with Mother Nature, with mixed results: On the one hand, they helped in irrigation and generation of power immensely; on the other, they affected the weather cycles in a manner that still cannot be predicted, creating Kedarnath-like disasters. Now, contrary to what the lay and the prejudiced might assume, the community of hermits and ascetics from across the nation have been vocal advocates of conservation of nature. Due to a prolonged exposure to engineers, bureaucrats and ministers since the early 20th century — who would initially pooh-pooh them as practitioners of voodoo — these activist babas speak as technical a language about our rivers as a scholar in marine science would. At least, their acquaintance with the subject is longer than that of a secretary who hardly stays in the department for a few years or a minister whose tenure ends in a maximum of five years. It is prima facie fine to induct them as ministers who would manage riverine affairs.
The issue gets complicated hereafter. First, it is obvious that five ministers couldn’t share the portfolio of water management. Second, the fact that two of these five babas have done a somersault with respect to their position on the performance of the Chouhan government on the riverfront drags them down from the high pedestal of morality to the level of opportunistic politicians. Affirming that they were happy that conserving the Narmada was now in their hands would have been a cleverer sound-byte. Third, the Chouhan government’s track record in Hindutva is chequered. There is an aspect of his governance where Hindu organisations are offered land on easy terms (often free); there is another where he forcibly evicts Hindus from a Saraswati Yajnashala and replaces them with Muslims brought in from other villages. One set of RSS pracharaks and swayamsevaks hold that the chief minister is a godsend. Another set protests, saying that they have never suffered a humiliation such as in the story of the Dhar Bhojshala even under the INC rule. Fourth, whereas there is no authoritative book on how a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu state would be like, the character of the State of Madhya Pradesh is as Hindu as it can get. Harmonious living and peace — in whichever direction you move — quite unlike all its neighbouring States! The local culture is so overwhelmingly or overbearingly Hindu that it is bound to rub off on any ruling party, be it of the BJP or the Congress. MP is so Hindu, Digvijaya Singh had desperately organised a series of yajnas to save his government before the INC lost the Assembly election to Uma Bharti-led BJP in 2003. One is quite sure INC president Rahul Gandhi will reclaim his “janeu-dhari Brahmin” identity when the campaign for Madhya Pradesh Assembly election of 2018 begins. Chouhan cannot be singled out for working for a ‘Hindu’ cause.
Among the present State government’s secular achievements, the highest has got to be this government’s extrication of ‘M’ from BIMARU States. The other secular forces at play in the province have somewhat dubious credentials. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, for example, is very likely to be taking dictations from Berkley-based Patrick McCully of the International River Network, which is among the NGOs that have devious designs for the country. Domestically, the Sardar Sarovar Project Relief & Rehabilitation Oversight Group comprising VK Shungulu, Prof GK Chadha and Dr Jayaprakash Narayan had found out in Gujarat that Patkar’s constant whining was unfounded; that all evacuated villagers along the banks of the Narmada were well compensated. If Patkar today says that these babas-turned-ministers have committed an unsaintly act, her intentions are arguably more unholy. In the absence of a secular choice with the bona fides, the worst criticism of Chouhan could be that he is a seasoned politician who knows how to end a stir and quieten at least a section of the activists who have a formidable nuisance value.