Rajat Sharma

Modi’s plan to develop religious shrines into tourist spots

AKBMillions of TV viewers, on Friday, watched visuals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deep in devotion, offering prayers before Lord Shiva at the historic Kedarnath shrine. With sandal paste on his forehead, Modi was chanting ‘Namami Shambho’ and the Vedic hymn ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’.

At the famous Badrinath shrine, Modi chanted the slogan ‘Jai Badri Vishal’ before hundreds of devotees. After offering prayers at both the shrines, the Prime Minister spoke of how India’s several centuries old legacy was sought to be downplayed and neglected by previous rulers during the last seven decades.

He was addressing a gathering at the last point village on India-China border, Mana, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Modi was laying the foundation stones of ropeway projects for Kedarnath and Hemkund Sahib and a mega plan for development of Badrinath, all worth over Rs 3,400 crores.

Modi said, “today my life is blessed after I offered my prayers to Baba Kedarnath and Badri Vishal, these are moments of enduring bliss for me. …Mana is considered the last Indian village on the border, but, for me, the last villages on our borders are our first villages. All of you living on the border are our strong guards.”

Modi described how governments in the past neglected India’s historic shrines due to ‘slavery mindset’. The Prime Minister said: ” This year on Independence Day, I had given a call from Red Fort to free our mindset from slavery. Why am I saying this? It was because work on developing (our religious) shrines seemed to be a crime for some people. Development was being weighed on the scale of slavery. For a long time, there was this sense of hate for development of our centres of faith.”

“These people never failed to praise the great centres of culture in foreign lands, but they looked upon the development of our own centres of faith with a sense of revulsion. There was only one reason: they had this sense of inferiority about our great culture, they had mistrust in our centres of faith, and they nurtured a sense of rancour for our legacy. This was noticed when the famous Somnath temple was rebuilt soon after Independence, and you very well know the history of how the Ram temple came to be built (in Ayodhya). This mindset of slavery brought our most sacred and holy shrines to a near dilapidated condition.”

“Hundreds of years of climatic changes reduced the stones, pillars, buildings, water supply and approach roads to a state of near ruin. Pilgrimage to these spiritual centres became very difficult. For over thousands of years, millions of people had dreams about offering prayers at these shrines, but our governments never felt it necessary to provide facilities to our citizens for going to these shrines for prayers. I do not know what type of slavish mindset ou rulers had. Was it not injustice? 130 crore Indians feel so, and God has given me the work to answer this question”, Modi said.

“Behind this sense of neglect was hidden the intention to insult millions of our countrymen. Previous governments had vested interests on this issue. But they failed to gauge the power of our centuries old culture. They forgot that these centres of faith were not merely structures, they were the very breath of our life, the power of our being. They were the beacons of power that kept us livelier despite the most difficult circumstances.”

“Despite gross neglect, the importance of our centres of faith did not wane, nor was there any decline in our sense of devotion for them. Today you see, Kashi, Ujjain, Ayodhya and numerous other centres of faith regaining their past glory. Kedarnath, Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib are being linked with modern facilities. A magnificent Ram temple is being built in Ayodhya. From Ma Kalika temple in Gujarat’s Pawagarh to a new corridor for the Goddess in Vindhyachal, India is giving a clarion call for its cultural rejuvenation. It is now becoming easier for millions of devotees to reach these shrines easily”. Modi said.

Let me mention here that Narendra Modi, since he became PM, has visited Kedarnath almost every year. When he was Gujarat CM in 2013, he went to Kedarnath after the monumental deluge, and vowed to rebuild the shrine. That work is almost over. The face of Kedarnath has changed.

Modi personally keeps a tab on the progress of development work that goes on there by using drones. On Friday too, Modi met the engineers and workers at Kedarnath. Last year, Modi unveiled a 12-feet high statue of Adi Guru Shankaracharya at the site of his samadhi in Kedarnath.

On Friday, after offering prayers at the shrine, he visited the samadhi and prayed before the statue. Modi had vowed to install this statue in 2017, and by 2021, it was ready. After the natural disaster of 2013, the holy town of Kedarnath was devastated. Hundreds of villages near Kedarnath were almost obliterated by the fury of the river. Only Baba Kedarnath’s shrine remained intact, miraculously saved by a rock outside the temple that stopped the huge waves of the river in spate. Modi not only restored the glory of Kedarnath shrine, but also redeveloped the entire region.

Modi, on Friday, sat on a chair amidst the workers toiling at the site, and spoke to each one of them, inquiring about the places from where they hailed, and whether they were facing any problem. He even advised them to drink lukewarm water and wear warm clothes to protect themselves from frost and cold. Hundreds of devotees watching this spectacle from a distance could not believe their eyes watching the Prime Minister sitting on a chair outside a tent, talking to labourers.

This is Modi’s typical style. Wherever he goes, he makes it a point to speak to workers. He did this during Covid pandemic when he met workers at night at the Central Vista project in Delhi, soon after he returned from a foreign visit. Such gestures differentiates Modi from his predecessors. Modi also met these workers after inaugurating Kartavya Path (formerly Raj Path), and his invitation to them to come as guests at Republic Day next year stands.

On Friday, Modi checked the Badrinath Master Plan, under which a Kashi Vishwanath-type corridor will be built, for which land is being acquired. Rs 280 crore will be spent on the first phase. An Arrival Plaza will be built for devotees where all facilities will be provided under a single roof. A beautiful riverfront on the banks of Alaknanda river will be built. An inter-state bus terminal will also be built.

Several people have criticized Modi’s frequent visits to famous shrines. Some of them cited the forthcoming Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls as one of the reasons. The fact is, Modi had been visiting Baba Kedarnath almost every year since he became PM. People have seen visuals of him praying before Lord Shiva in Kashi, Ujjain, Deoghar and other shrines.

Secondly, it was argued that Modi is trying to consolidate Hindu vote by visiting Kedarnath and other shrines. The fact is, Modi spoke about development of all shrines even when there were no elections.

I have seen a 2001 video, when Modi was only a fulltime BJP worker, and was neither CM nor PM. In this video, Modi is shown as laying stress on developing religious shrines in Uttarkhand in order to give a boost to tourism in the state. Modi almost repeated the same words that he had said 21 years ago, in 2001, when he was not the PM. Time changed, but Modi’s outlook towards centres of faith did not change.

I want to focus on two points. One, Modi performing prayers before Lord Shiva is his personal choice of faith. Two, those who do not like this, can see how tourism has developed in Uttarakhand after major schemes were undertaken in Kedarnath and Badrinath. The influx of more tourists has resulted in more jobs for local residents in the state, and there is no harm in working for the betterment of people. And if the credit for this goes to Modi, there should be no objection.

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