Why is Bihar’s ruling coalition scared of preacher Dhirendra Shastri?

Many believe that the Mahagathbandhan government fears that Dhirendra Shastri’s visit could undo gains made by promoting caste politics

NEW DELHI | Updated: 04 May, 2023 1:41 pm IST
A RJD minister has said that preacher Shastri will meet the fate of Lal Krishana Advani.

NEW DELHI: Since MP-based preacher Dhirendra Shashtri announced his visit, there has been uneasiness among the grand alliance ruling the state, with leaders of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) openly threatening to arrest him.

Tej Pratap Yadav, Bihar’s environment minister and elder brother of Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, has vowed to oppose Shashtri’s visit and stage a gherao at the Patna airport if he sets foot there. Known to be passionately religious himself, he has accused the religious preacher of spreading communal hatred.

On Tuesday, Bihar minister from the RJD quota, Chandrasekhar Singh, went a step further to declare that the state government would arrest Shashtri – popularly known as Bageshwar Dham Baba. “He will meet the fate of Lalkrishna Advani. He is an imposter. He does no miracles… These people have commercialized religion. Tejashwi’s leadership will teach a lesson to such people,” he told media persons on Tuesday.

Chandrasekhar, considered close to the Deputy CM, cautioned the preacher against attempts to disturb communal harmony in the state.

Meanwhile, BJP leaders, including Union ministers, have thrown their weight behind the 26-year-old preacher, who has openly advocated for converting Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism.

State BJP president and Leader of Opposition Samrat Choudhary, who is seen as Bihar’s new Hindutva face, has dared the JDU-RJD government to arrest the Hindu leader. Union ministers Giriraj Singh and Nityanand Rai have also supported Shashtri’s visit.

Shashtri, cherished as a staunch Hindutva figure, is scheduled to impart religious teachings at a congregation to be held in Naubatpur, a satellite town in Patna district between May 13 and May 17.

Many Hindutva outfits have also thrown their hats in the ring. On Wednesday, a fringe outfit named Savarna Sena (the army of upper castes) took to the streets in Patna in his support and vowed to provide security to Shashtri. “We’ll not spare anyone who opposes Baba Bageshwar Dham. We are sanatani and followers of Lord Bajrang Bali. He is also a servant of Bajrang Bali. We’ll see who hinders his visit,” declared a worker.

Shashtri heads the Bageshwar Dham pilgrimage site in Madhya Pradesh, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, and has been accused of conning people by claiming to read their minds.

A votary of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra,’ whose list of admirers includes BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Shashtri has been named in cases lodged in many places for allegedly inciting communal passions and promoting superstitions.

Political analysts believe that the uneasiness among the Mahagathbandhan camp stems from the fear that Shashtri’s interpretation of Hindutva could further benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of next year’s general elections.

Already under severe pressure over a range of issues, including CM Nitish Kumar’s ideological standing, law and order problems, the ruling alliance – particularly Lalu Prasad’s RJD – believes that a rise in Hindu sentiments could undo the gains it has made with regards to consolidating its traditional MY (Muslim and Yadav) voter base.

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