The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saffron splash at twin parades
Sadhus crowd out Uma ministers

Bhopal, Dec. 8: The BJP may have achieved spectacular success in Madhya Pradesh on the promise of good governance and development but when Uma Bharti was sworn in today as chief minister it was apparent she was in no hurry to jettison her saffron moorings.

The ceremony was shorn of the sombreness associated with such an occasion. The dais on Lal Parade ground was transformed into a Vishwa Hindu Parishad-like “dharam sansad” as some 40 sadhus of all shades and hues occupied over half the space and squeezed out the 17 ministers sworn in with Uma.

They emerged from the sidelines when their names were called out and collectively chanted their oath of secrecy, which sounded more like a shloka.

Armed with trishuls and marigold-covered staffs, the sadhus and sants in their saffron, red, turmeric and white robes literally put the netas in the shade. The crowd seemed more intent in spotting Uma’s guru and her peers from Ayodhya than deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and his cabinet colleagues.

When Uma touched the feet of her guru, Swami Vishveshwar Teerth of Udipi’s Pejawar Math, just before taking the oath of office, the crowd cheered and screamed “Jai Shri Ram”. More applause followed when she prostrated before the swami after the ritual was over.

Almost everyone Uma counts as her peers — Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas convener Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Ram Vilas Vedanti, Basudevanand Madhavacharya and the “renegade” Sakshi Maharaj, who upped to join the Samajwadi Party and later returned — was present.

The VHP was represented by its vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore and the RSS by Madan Das Devi.

The “secular” balance was juggled with the presence of two maulvis — Mufti Abdul Razzaq Khan, Mufti-e-Azam, Madhya Pradesh and Jameel Ahmad Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams — who were brought in by minister of textiles Shahnawaz Hussain, and a couple of granthis. But no bishop or pastor was visible.

The next outburst of joy came when Uma greeted her predecessor Digvijay Singh, seated in the front row of the dais. As he raised his hand to bless her, the gathering clapped despite voting him out just a week ago.

The otherwise faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh BJP also stood as one to welcome the party’s return to power after a 10-year sanyas.

The ailing Kushabhau Thakre made it despite his doctor’s advice as did his loyalists, Sunderlal Patwa, Kailash Joshi, Laxmi Narayan Pandey, Sumitra Mahajan and Pyarelal Khandelwal.

In an informal interaction with the media shortly before she was sworn in, Uma maintained her priority was governance and development and not Hindutva. “If a Ram temple will be constructed in the near future, I will go as a worker. But I will never use the issue to garner votes.”

While Uma conceded that her backward caste background had helped her in the elections, she said she would not “Mandalise” Madhya Pradesh and allow it to go the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar way.

“My resolve is not to divide Madhya Pradesh on caste lines and do the Laloo Yadav kind of politics. The poor will be the major beneficiaries of my government and if this is my credo, then naturally it is the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the OBCs who will be the major beneficiaries. I am determined to change the trend of north Indian politics as a true follower of Atalji,” she said.

Uma declared that health and education were her first priorities. “I don’t know why Sonia Gandhi could not do it but I am sure Atalji will ensure that our Chhattisgarh government will release enough and more power to Madhya Pradesh.”

As for roads, her belief was if the Jharkhand government could undo the “terrible record” of the Bihar dispensations and make its roads motorable, she could do it in Madhya Pradesh.

Uma, however, indicated that her immediate task was to prepare and release a white paper on Digvijay’s 10-year rule when the Assembly is convened in a month or so.

The “chargesheet” the BJP had prepared before the polls would be the basis and Uma said it would cover all aspects, including fiscal management and the social sector.

The ministers who were sworn in today came from all districts and represented the major castes. They included Anoop Mishra, the Prime Minister’s nephew who won a seat from Gwalior.

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