A coconut smeared with vermilion is the unlikely trigger for a new political row in Madhya Pradesh, where elections are due later this year.
It started with a video of Congress parliamentarian Jyotiraditya Scindia flinging said coconut from a car window. The video, filmed when he was touring Panna last week, was posted and circulated on social media.
Why he threw the coconut out has sprouted theories within the state’s ruling BJP. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has gone so far as to say that “Congress leaders believe in black magic”.
The vermillion-smeared coconut – it may have been used in a ritual – was apparently handed to Mr Scindia by some Congress workers when he was on his way from Khajuraho to Rewa.
The Congress leader is being slammed by the BJP for not just “belittling his party men” but also “showing disrespect to the Hindu culture”, since, they say, it was a religious offering.
To this speculation, the Chief Minister added, without naming Mr Scindia: “Congress leaders nowadays believe in black magic. Someone presented a coconut to a Congress leader, someone told him it was Sindoor (vermillion)-smeared and so should be thrown away…whether he threw it or somebody else did, I don’t know, but it shows they are confused and believe in ‘tona totka‘ (black magic)”.
Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi did not deny an element of superstition in this story.
“Mr Scindia was pressured by party workers to throw the coconut smeared in vermilion. He argued with them not to be superstitious in the age of science, but they were adamant not to keep the coconut in the car, so he threw it away,” he said.
The Chief Minister, who is hoping to retain power in the state after 15 years, is on a Jan Ashirwad Yatra (public blessing campaign) in Madhya Pradesh.
The Congress plans to chase his route with a “Jan Jagaran Abhiyan Yatra (public awareness campaign)”, in which it aims at highlighting “failures” of the state’s BJP government.