Hindu religious leaders have always played a galvanising role in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s electoral strategy. Over the years, this mix of religion and politics has helped the RSS create a saffron tide for the Bharatiya Janata Party. But this year, an unusually large number of Madhya Pradesh’s god-men have come out on the streets against the BJP for the upcoming assembly elections on 28 November. Amid the state’s high-tension election campaign, the sadhus are now vowing to uproot the chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government.
Namdeo Das Tyagi, a high-profile sadhu popularly known as Computer Baba, is leading this rebellion. “All we want is protection of Narmada River and cow, but Shivraj Singh Chouhan is not willing to listen,” he told me after a massive conclave of Hindu religious leaders on the banks of the river Narmada, in Jabalpur, on 23 November. “He is anti-Narmada and anti-cow and wants to fool the ascetic community by patronising sadhus who enjoy the backing of the RSS,” Computer Baba said.
The one-day conclave, called Narmade Sansad, was attended by over 1,000 sadhus from across the poll-bound state. It started with an early morning yajna, seeking divine intervention to topple the Chouhan government in the assembly elections. The conclave concluded with the adoption of a resolution asking people to save “dharma” by voting out the anti-saint BJP dispensation.
The Jabalpur conclave was the culmination of a series of street protests organised by a section of Hindu religious leaders in different parts of the state. The first of these protests was held in Bhopal on 2 October, followed by protests in Indore, on 23 October; Gwalior, on 30 October; Khandwa, on 4 November; and Rewa, on 11 November.
Computer Baba has played a key role in organising these protests and the conclave. In April this year, sensing simmering discontent among some Hindu religious leaders, Shivraj Singh Chouhan had installed Computer Baba and four other god-men as ministers of state, or MoS, in the state government. This was not the first time that the state government inducted god-men in the administration—in 2016, an RSS pracharak-turned-sadhu, Akhileshwaranand Giri, was made head of the Madhya Pradesh Cow Protection Board, or MPCPB. The appointments in April this year took the total number of sadhus involved in running the state to six. But within six months, Computer Baba had a fallout with Chouhan amidst allegations that the government was giving preferential treatment to RSS-backed sadhus.