April 21, 2019
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India's BJP spent millions on Kumbh Mela ahead of elections

Prayagraj, India, Feb 6 (efe-epa).- The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pulled out all stops to organize the world's largest religious gathering, the Kumbh Mela, just ahead of crucial elections in the country mid-year.

In the northern Indian city of Prayagraj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, hundreds of posters with smiling faces of Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath welcomed the pilgrims.

The festival had reached its peak this week with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims taking a holy dip at the Sangam, which is the confluence of three rivers of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, on Feb. 4.

The BJP had reportedly spent over $586.8 million (Rs 4200 crore) to organize the Kumbh Mela, which began mid-January and will go on until Mar. 4.

The estimated numbers of visitors for the 2019 Ardh Kumbh Mela - that is held between the main or Purna Kumbh Mela which happens every 12 years - is expected to break all previous records, including the data recorded during the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, which happens every 144 years.

A whopping 150 million people, including pilgrims and holy men are expected to attend the festival over a course of 55 days.

"The UP government has been using this Kumbh Mela to basically say that this is the best organized Kumbh Mela so far," Akshay Mukul, journalist and author of the book "Gita Press and the making of Hindu India" told EFE.

Mukul added that the UP chief minister, as well as the BJP, were experts in marketing and it was not surprising that they would want to exploit the religious gathering for political gains.

In the run up to the Mela, the regional government had invited dozens of ambassadors and top officials in December last year to witness the preparations first hand.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, an expert in Hindu nationalist politics and author of a Modi biography, said that the Kumbh Mela has always been used by right-wing Hindu groups to promote religious polarization and mobilize support for issues like the Ayodhya dispute.

The temple town was at the center of a religious dispute after Hindu extremists had demolished a mosque in 1992, demanding to build a temple on the site.

The incident had led to months of unrest and communal riots that left 2,000 people dead.

The calls for the construction of a Hindu temple in place of the Babri Masjid - a case which is still in the courts of India since the past few decades - could be heard once again in the Kumbh Mela, especially during events organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a conservative Hindu party and the ideological parent of the BJP, last week.

Kumbh Mela brings together Hindus on one platform, Mukhopadhyay said, adding that it, however, remains to be seen if this would help the BJP to convince voters to bring them back to power for a second mandate.

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