Religious leaders in Madhya Pradesh are preparing to jump into the political fray and contest the state Assembly polls due later this year.
This comes against the backdrop of the state government according the Minister of State (MoS) status to five such ‘godmen’ in April this year.
Some of these religious leaders are ready to contest as Independents, if no political party offers them tickets.
Swami Namdev Tyagi, popularly called as ‘Computer Baba’ by his followers, who was accorded the MoS status in April, says he will fight the polls only if MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan asks him to do so.
“If Chouhanji asks me to fight the Assembly polls, I am ready for it,” he told PTI.
However, a source close to Mr Tyagi claimed that he is doing hectic lobbying to contest the election from Indore.
Mr Tyagi had announced to take out the ‘Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra’ in April this year to expose the alleged scam in planting saplings on the banks of the Narmada river and to demand a ban on illegal sand mining.
But soon after getting the MoS status, he cancelled the campaign, saying the state government had fulfilled his demand to form a committee of saints and seers for protection of the Narmada river.
Baba Avdeshpuri (47), who holds a doctorate degree in ‘Ram Charit Manas’ (an epic poem composed by Tulsidas), is inclined to enter the electoral fray from Ujjain district on the BJP’s ticket.
“I am close to the VHP and the Sangh Parivar and have helped the BJP in the past,” he claimed.
But, Mr Avdeshpuri said he was not going to put pressure on the BJP to give him the ticket.
“I am not going to do what some babas did to become MoS. I don’t believe in such pressure tactics,” he said.
He said his followers want him to fight the polls to ensure that encroachments at the site of Simhastha Kumbh Mela held in Ujjain are removed.
“So, even if the BJP does not give me a ticket, I am prepared to contest as an Independent candidate,” he said.
He said the BJP should not forget that its senior leader Uma Bharti (now a Union minister) brought the party to power in Madhya Pradesh in 2003.
“The BJP came to power in MP just because Umaji, the saffron-robed sadhvi, was projected as the chief minister,” he said.
Religious leader Maharaj Madan Mohan Khadeshwari, 45, also expressed his willingness to contest from Keolari seat in Seoni district as a BJP candidate.
“If the BJP doesn’t give me a ticket, I am going to fight as an Independent. I am 101 per cent sure of my victory…I have been tirelessly working for the people of Seoni for the last 30 years,” he said.
Yogi Ravinath Mahiwale from Raisen district has also started his campaign for the Assembly polls.
“Come what may, I am going to contest the election on ‘save Narmada’ plank as the river is being ruined due to illegal sand mining,” the 42-year-old religious leader said.
Mr Mahiwale, who is keen to get a ticket from the Udaipura Assembly seat in Raisen, says, “I won’t mind contesting from the Congress, if the BJP does not field me.”
Similarly, Mahant Pratap Giri, 35, also wants to contest from Silwani seat in Raisen.
He said if the BJP does not field him, he would contest as an Independent.
“I am running a campaign against pictures of Gods and Goddesses being used for commercial products. I will fight the election to serve people…serving people is like serving God,” he added.
In April, the BJP government in MP had accorded the MoS status to five Hindu religious leaders — Narmadanand Maharaj, Hariharanand Maharaj, Swami Namdev Tyagi, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant.
Seeking to downplay the controversy over grant of the MoS status to the ‘godmen’, the chief minister had then said that his government wanted to rope in people from all walks of life for welfare and development.