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Ganga politics: How the holy river turned into the epicentre of campaigning in UP ahead of Lok Sabha polls

The politics in Uttar Pradesh has always revolved around the river Ganga and the cities surrounding it. From its ghats to the people who draw their livelihood from boating, fishing or even helping families bury the ashes of their loved ones in the Ganges; it has become the epicentre of not just Uttar Pradesh politics, but politics of the nation at large (with the state having the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha).

And thus, this is the reason, that all major political parties time and again have tried to capture people's attention and sew together a political thread of 'Hindu harmony' by invoking the holy river's name during election season. From the Congress to the much saffron BJP, of late political campaigning in Uttar Pradesh has been focusing especially on Ganga, with the Central government's 'Namami Gange' project coming to the fore.

Priyanka's 'Ganga Yatra' poll-plank

As the newly-appointed Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra embarked on a three-day long 'Ganga Yatra' on Monday, she made sure that she gave out a strong message of harbouring goodwill and blessings of the holy river.

"I will reach out to you through waterway, bus, train, and on foot. Ganga is a symbol of truth and equality. It is a symbol of our Ganga-Jamuni culture. Ganga doesn't discriminate. I will reach you through Gangaji," Priyanka said in her open letter to the people of Uttar Pradesh before starting her campaign.

Priyanka is likely to interact with marginalised communities who live by the river such as the boatmen and fishermen. Many of these communities come under the Other Backward Castes or Scheduled Castes groupings and together they make up a good chunk of the electorate and thus politically too, invoking the Ganga and those who depend on it for their livelihood is considered to be a smart move in Opposition circles.

 Ganga politics: How the holy river turned into the epicentre of campaigning in UP ahead of Lok Sabha polls

Priyanka Gandhi at the Triveni Sangam in Prayagraj on Monday. ANI

According to a DNA report, the 'Namami Gange' project will feature prominently on Priyanka's campaign speech. The project, one of the poll planks of Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been criticised for being incomplete on several counts. And Congress sources believe Priyanka’s campaign will prominently highlight the claim that 80 percent of the funds allocated for it is lying unused.

The report states that "Of the 254 projects announced to clean the river, 75 projects have not been completed and while Rs 6,131 crore of the project outlay of Rs 24,672 crore was released, only Rs 4,994 crore has been released till now." Also, the report mentions that lab tests have proved that bacterial contamination in the river has increased from 2014.

What is the Namami Gange project?

Through this project the Centre had aimed to prevent the flow of 28.5 crore litres of sewage per day into river Ganga, Gomti, Yamuna and Ram Ganga from 14 towns in Uttar Pradesh. Minister of River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari had said that the cleaning and developmental projects of 'Namami Gange 'programme under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) will be completed by March 2020.

Gadkari had earlier said that there is no dearth of funds for the implementation of projects under 'Namami Gange'. "There is no dearth of funds for the Namami Gange projects aimed at cleaning the river and maintaining its uninterrupted flow and the Centre will ensure that nothing impedes their implementation," he had said. "Ban Ganga in Laksar will be revived to add to the flow of water in the Ganga."

Gadkari had also sought individual monetary contributions from people to the mission assuring them that their contribution will be credited straight into the Namami Gange accounts. Speaking about the status of the Namami Gange projects in Uttarakhand, he said that out of 33 sewage treatment plants to be set up in the state, work on 19 had already been completed; work is in progress on 12 and two are in the pipeline for Dehradun. "'Har Ki Pauri' will be beautified at a cost of Rs 40 crore," the Union minister said.

Gadkari had also announced that he dreams of travelling in a motorboat from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar soon. "A plan is being worked out in that direction," he added.

Apart from the initiatives taken by the BJP-led government under this programme, Modi also had initiated live streaming of the famous Ganga Aarti at Varanasi ghats and the Pooja at the Kashi Vishwanath temple in a step that the BJP government believed would be a "value addition" to the transformed city.

The idea to screen the evening aarti live at various important spots of the city on LED screens is said to have caught the fancy of the prime minister after complaints were received that many were unable to properly witness it at the ghats and at Kashi Vishwanath temple due to huge crowds.

Opposition barbs 

However, despite all these developmental moves, the Opposition has been sharp in its criticism of the Modi goverment over the "politicisation" of the river.

When in February, during the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Modi had taken a dip in the holy river, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati had asked if the prime minister's holy dip in the Ganga river will wash away his sins of "poll promises, treachery and other wrongdoings". "Will a 'SHAHI' dip in Sangam by PM Modi be able to wash sins of reneging poll promises, treachery and other state wrongs?," Mayawati had asked on Twitter.

The Modi connect

Meanwhile, Modi has maintained a special relationship with the river and the citizens of his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi. During one of his latest visits to the city, Modi had hailed the contribution of the boatmen who thrive on the river and and sail its economy.

"Boatmen play an important role during Kumbh. There is a strong relationship between Prayagraj and boatmen. They are the dedicated soldiers of Maa Ganga. Without them, the Ramayana of Lord Ram is incomplete," Modi had said. "Lord Ram, by whose benevolence everyone's boat sails through, his boat was ferried by our naavik friends. I share a deep relationship with you... You call yourself 'Gangaputra', I have come on the call of Maa Ganga and serving you," the prime minister had said.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 19:37:20 IST

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