Shivraj’s Shankar-Seva on the Narmada Bank
At a time when memorial-politics or statute-politics is gaining prominence among the competing political parties in the country, the one proposed by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will perhaps generate least controversy. His government has decided to build a grand statue of Adi Shankaracharya at Omkareshwar, the temple town near Indore, famous for one of the much venerated “Jyotirlingams” in the country. It was in Omkareshwar where the young Shankar had met his Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada in a cave and attained the highest spiritual elevations.
I agree with the Chief Minister that India has not done proper justice to realise the worth of Adi Shankaracharya and his great journey to the four parts of the country to establish India’s cultural and spiritual unity in the 8th century AD when Hinduism was a loose connection of different faiths. In his life-span of only 32 years, Shankara, hailing from Kerala, established his Mutts (spiritual capitals) on the four sides of India, all strategically placed to ensure that the religion and faith played a cementing role in keeping the idea of “Bharat” (India) eternal. He had enabled the integration of the fledgling Bhakti movement with the Vedic part of traditional Hinduism, better termed “Sanatana Dharma”.
Chouhan’s proposed statute will be built in melted metals of gold, silver, copper and iron donated by every household in Madhya Pradesh to ensure that there is popular participation in the endeavour. Besides, the Madhya Pradesh government is about to introduce a course in the school textbooks on the teachings of the great saint that emphasised the theme of unity in diversity of India.
Chouhan’s decision to build Adi Shankara’s statue and spread his teachings is the collateral impact of the ongoing ‘Namami Devi Narmade – Sewa Yatra’ that he is leading to increase awareness about the need for conservation of river Narmada – the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh – and sustainable use of her resources. Set off on December 11, 2016, the 144-day Yatra covering 100 villages and a distance of 3350 kilometers will conclude on May 11, 2017. Originating from Amarkantak in Vindhya ranges, Narmada flows through 16 districts of Madhya Pradesh covering 1077 kilometers. The river, before flowing into Gujarat, quenches the thrist of 40 million odd population of these districts, besides irrigating 5.50 lakh hectares and generating 2400 MW power in the state.
I have often argued that despite his low profile Shivaj Singh Chouhan is one of the country’s best performing Chief Ministers. He has had already three terms and everything suggests that he will get his fourth term after next year’s Assembly elections and set a national record. He has done a lot of good things and initiated or implemented welcome measures such as preventing female infanticide and foeticide, promoting renewable energy projects, undertaking infrastructural developments and ushering in social justice-measures. Under him, Madhya Pradesh has registered the country’s maximum agricultural growth rate and overall GDP rate. Electricity production has gone up manifold. The road network has considerably been widened.
Interestingly, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has got a great personal charisma among rural voters and he excels in maintaining one-on-one connections. And that he does by cleverly promoting cultural and religious programmes. His schemes like ‘Mukhyamantri Tirth Darshan Yojna’ (Pilgrimage scheme for senior citizens) is a wonderful example. Last year, he superbly engaged in planning and executing the Simhastha fair – held every 12 years in MP at Ujjain by spending not less than Rs. 2000 crore. Chouhan is probably among those political administrators who know the importance of developing integrated infrastructure through religious tourism development that includes environmental, jobs for local population, creation of roads and connectivity, waste-management, and fostering of peace and social/cultural harmony. In other words, this brand of tourism activity works at multiple planes, from directly affecting the local economy to influencing decisions at the policy- framing level.
The ‘Namami Devi Narmade – Sewa Yatra’ has all these elements. It promotes planation at the banks of the river Narmada for the protection of riparian zone and reduction in soil erosion. It encourages sustainable agaricultural practices and organic farming. It identifies various sources of river pollution and tries to eliminate the same through public awareness and participation. It is aimed at building public toilets, creating special “Pujan Kunds” on the banks of the river and special burial grounds. It is working towards stopping the flow of dirty water into the Narmada by creating massive sewage treatment plants and diverting the treated water, not to the river but to the agricultuarl fields. Above all, this programme through Chief Minister’s “padyatra” and public programmes promotes the “save-girls” programme.
What is most remarkable about this programme is that unlike the other states which demand central assistance for its implementation, Chouhan says that the expendurures required will be met from various programmes already earmarked in the state government’s budget. “ I am self-sufficient to take the ‘Namami Devi Narmade – Sewa Yatra’ to its logical conclusion”, the Chief Minister told me. Highlighting the steps taken for conservation of the Narmada, he said the state government has allocated Rs 1,500 crore for setting up sewage treatment plants in 15 towns on the banks of the river. He promised that all towns and villages on Narmada’s banks would be open defecation free and a dense plantation would be carried out there to increase water retention capacity.
I wish him all the success.