| Devotees take a dip in the Godavari on the first day of the month-long Kumbh Mela in Nashik. (AFP)
Rajahmundry, July 30: At the height of the foreign origin controversy in 2001, Sonia Gandhi had taken a holy dip during the Maha Kumbh in Allahabad, with an eye on the BJP’s Hindu votebank.
Following in her wake, Chandrababu Naidu took three dips in the Godavari here at the start of the Godavari Pushkaram festival that coincided with the Nashik Kumbh Mela, a unique move that was vested with significance hardly eight months from elections.
The chief minister, who arrived in Hyderabad from Delhi last night, flew down here in a government helicopter and took the dips fully clothed at the auspicious moment of 12.59 pm to cheers from lakhs of devotees who dived into the water with him.
A middle-aged woman created a momentary flutter by trying to force her way to the Telugu Desam chief before being stopped by policewomen. Otherwise, the 12-day mega state-sponsored religious mela, organised at a total cost of Rs 175 crore, including a Rs 50-crore grant from the Centre, went off without a hitch.
In contrast to Jayalalithaa, whom he has taken to consulting now, Naidu is not given to overt spiritual shows, apart from the occasional visit to the Tirupati temple or to the Saibaba of Puttaparthi.
He is not known to do regular pujas at home, but meditates, which could well be for its calming effects.
The Tamil Nadu chief minister, on the other hand, is famous for her temple trips and yagnas. Thus, while her dip in a holy tank at Kumbakonam during the Mahamaham festival — south India’s version of the Kumbh mela — in 1992 after she was installed as chief minister for the first time was seen as thanksgiving, Naidu’s move has attracted whispers of an attempt to woo voters, particularly those with saffron leanings. The parliamentary seat of Rajahmundry is held by the BJP.
On the threshold of Assembly and general elections, the lavish expenditure on the mela has strengthened the view that Naidu is trying to signal to voters about his unstinted faith in Hinduism.
He has been hard pressed at the end of his second term to reinvent himself, to add another dimension to his image of a hi-tech administrator.
Using the platform of the festival, Naidu also seems to have soft-launched his campaign.