Sant Kabir Nagar (Uttar Pradesh): Amid intense caste politics in Sant Kabir Nagar Lok Sabha constituency where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress are trying to score the upper caste votes, development of the constituency – which was carved out of Basti following the 2008 delimitation – has taken a back seat.
The district has a mausoleum and a mazaar (shrine) of 15th century saint and mystic poet Kabir at Maghar and it is a pilgrimage site for around 2.5 crore ‘Kabirpanthis’ (Kabir’s followers) from across the world.
But unfortunately, the government has been overlooking this important site, which could potentially be a tourism hub. The area does not have hotels and other facilities so that tourists can easily come and visit the place.
Just before the elections, foundation stone of Sant Kabir Academy, which will highlight his teachings and thoughts, was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Uttar Pradesh government has allotted a budget of Rs 2.5 crore for the academy.
“We are thankful to Modi ji for paying a visit to Sant Kabir’s samadhi on June 28; it was a welcome step. But it was too late. Leaders keep visiting the place, but no notable change has been witnessed over the years. All of them have given a lip service only. The area should be developed with an aim to attract people from across the globe so that the teachings of the great saint can be propagated,” Mahant Vichar Das – chief priest of the mausoleum – told NewsClick.
He said that a proposal has been sent to the government for development of the place, but only after approval, one can say that the government has done something meaningful. “We are hopeful that it will happen. Thoda thoda kaam hua hai. Der se hi sahi, lekin shuruaat hui hai (The work has begun in bits and pieces. Though it’s late, but it has started),” he added.
The Kabirpanthis, who are regular visitors of this site, feel that the place has historical importance and is an important heritage site. But it has been a victim of the government’s apathy and ignorance. “This place is the same as it was 100 years ago. Successive governments have made no effort to develop the final resting place of the great poet, and make it a tourist destination,” said Jagdish Narayan Singh, a Kabirpanthi.
Another visitor, Parashuram said there are attempts to politicise and saffronise Kabir. “Today’s politics and Kabir’s ideology and teachings can never go hand in hand. It’s election time. Politicians come here to garner support, but none of them have done anything so far. Big temples across the country give political mileage to politicians; therefore, they have been developed. But the polity of the day cannot appropriate Kabir as his teachings talk about peace, equality, love and compassion,” he said.
Ahmar, 42, was among those who were reciting Kabir’s doha in the evening when Newsclick reached Kabir’s mausoleum. He was accompanied by several others who were no-Muslims. “This is Kabir’s teachings, which bring people together even in this age of hate politics. No communal riots has taken place here so far. The campus has a samadhi as well as a mazar. There is a temple and a mosque too. This is what Kabir stands for,” he added.
Pankaj – another Kabirpanthi who was also reciting the the doha – said there is no place in the world where people belonging to different faiths come. “People here follow Kabir’s 500-year-old teachings. The place has not witnessed any communal flare up since independence,” he said.
“Politicians have always used Kabir. They talk about him, but do not follow him in their practical lives. The pathetic condition of the area is its evidence. Maghar is at a distance of around five kilometres from district headquarter of Khalilabad. Still, there is no facility here. The mausoleum should have a guest house, so that people come stay here. The road leading to this place should be built. But nothing of this sort is happening,” he said, adding that “it’s perhaps because the place will not fetch votes like other temples and mosques”.
The Kabirpanthis want international-level research, publications and presentations on the life and “darshan” of the saint and poet, storing all his creative works, research references and publications related to him.
Saint Kabir spent his entire life at Varanasi, but he shifted to Maghar in the latter part of his life. There was a superstition that those who die in Maghar are reborn as donkeys. Kabir came here to prove this believe a myth and not reality. When Saint Kabir died, there was a confusion regarding whether he should receive a Muslim burial or a Hindu cremation because his religion was not known. Legend has it that the body of the great saint disappeared leaving behind a heap of flowers which were divided among people from both the communities.
Hindus cremated them and built a temple over it and right next to it, Muslims buried those flowers and built a mazaar.
Sant Kabir Nagar is going to polls on May 12. The BJP has fielded Praveen Nishad (the opposition alliance candidate who had defeated the BJP in last year’s byelection from Gorakhpur), Congress has fielded Bhalchandra Yadav, while the Mahagathbandhan has fielded Kushal Tiwari from this constituency.
BJP’s Sharad Tripathi – who had made headlines for raining blows with his shoe on Mehdawal MLA Rakesh Singh Baghel in full public glare in an incident that took place in March this year – is the sitting MP from here. He had won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with a margin of 97,978 votes. Bahujan Samaj Party’s Bhism Shankar had come second.
Notably, followers of Kabir are mostly from Dalit and Hindu backward castes, with their maximum concentration in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The constituency has a traditional fight of dominance between Brahmins and Thakurs (Rajputs) – the two upper caste communities. Tripathi may have earned criticism for his unseemly behavior, but UP’s Brahmins, especially in Eastern UP, seem to be satisfied with him. When Tripathi was summoned to Lucknow by party president Mahendranath Pandey on March 7, in a show of strength, several prominent leaders of the Brahmin community had joined him en-route.
The MP was even compared to Parashurama (a mythological character) who waged war on Kshatriyas, just as Tripathi bested Baghel, who is a Rajput.
For the BJP, the support of upper caste votes is inevitable, and therefore, it is trying hard to douse the conflict. Brahmins with 12% vote share and Rajputs with 8% vote share are both significant for the BJP to prevail in the state.
Dropping Tripathi and giving his father, former BJP UP President Ramapati Ram Tripathi a ticket to contest from Deoria may have established peace in his community, but the Rajputs are still angry and may take revenge of the “shoe gate”. A section of the Thakur community may go in favour of the Congress and if this happens, it will strengthen the prospects of Tiwari, as he already enjoys the support of Dalits, Muslims, Yadavs and a section of the OBCs.