Beatles forgotten in poll war

No word on ashram where the band stayed

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 14.02.17

Lucknow, Feb. 13: For the first time in Rishikesh, the Beatles don't matter.

Nobody has yet demanded that the place where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison had stayed in February 1968 be turned into a heritage site.

No political party has promised to preserve the fame that had travelled to this holy city in Uttarakhand with the British rock band.

The band doesn't figure anywhere on the 2017 Assembly poll canvas.

Back in 2012, the Beatles were on everybody's lips when most candidates had promised to develop Chaurasi Kutia - the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - as a tourist spot.

"They believed that there were a large number of youths who loved their association with the town because of the Beatles. But we are surprised that the politicians are forgetting this," a Beatles chronicler in India told this correspondent.

The chronicler, based in Dehradun, 45km north of Rishikesh, asked not to be named.

But it's true that politicians seem to have forgotten the band. Prem Chand Aggarwal, a sitting BJP MLA, had in 2012 promised to take good care of the portion of the ashram where the Beatles had stayed. This time, the ashram hasn't even figured in his campaign.

"This electoral war between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Harish Rawat (of the Congress) has unfortunately overshadowed other issues," said Ram Krishna Tiwari of Sarv Vikas Party, who is contesting from Rishikesh, which would vote on February 15 along with 68 other constituencies in the state.

Polling in one Assembly seat, Karnprayag, has been deferred after the death of the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate yesterday.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Satpal Maharaj (Satpal Singh Rawat), a spiritual leader who was contesting from Pauri Garhwal as a Congress candidate, had made several promises regarding the ashram because he didn't want "the rich spirituality of the area to die".

Spread over 15 acres, the ashram borders Rishikesh in Dehradun, Yamkeshwar in Pauri and Narendra Nagar in Tehri.

Maharaj then remained dormant for four years before waking up again in 2013 - a year before the last parliamentary elections - with the promise of preserving the "glorious history of the Beatles".

Maharaj has since switched camps to the BJP, frustrated after being overlooked for chief minister in February 2014.

The group had visited Rishikesh to stay for three months and learn advance transcendental meditation. They returned early but not before triggering a rush of footfalls as thousands of British and American fans flocked to Rishikesh for a glimpse of the quartet.

The band is said to have composed more than 40 songs, including The Happy Rishikesh Song, in the ashram or just after leaving it.

If politicians have ignored the Beatles this time, consciously or unconsciously, the forest department has been counting the gains since the ashram - in the possession of the Maharishi's disciples till 2003 - was thrown open to the public on December 8, 2015.

"We counted the visit of about 10,000 tourists in the first 365 days of opening The Beatles ashram to the public. The number included 2,000 foreigners. This year we hope the number will multiply because now the entire world knows that it is open for all," Rajendra Nautiyal, a ranger of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, told this newspaper. The ashram falls under the reserve.

The entry fee for foreign tourists is Rs 600. Indians have to pay Rs 150 and students, Rs 50.

"We are planning to develop a nature centre in the ashram where students of nature can be trained," Nautiyal added. "There is also a plan to build a bird sanctuary on the ashram area. Let us hope it materialises soon."