The unexpected happened in the history of over seven decades of Warkari yatra to Pandharpur on July 12. The Warkaris, drawn from all over Maharashtra, who congregate at Pandharpur on the auspicious 11th day of Ashadh month of Hindu calendar popularly known as ‘Ashadhi Ekadashi’ or ‘Devshayani Ekadashi’ that falls on 19th of July, raised a banner of revolt against the Maharashtra State government’s decision to push the controversial Anti-Superstitions Bill. They stopped the traditional ‘Palkhi Sohala’ for nearly an hour on way to Pandharpur, the seat of Lord Vitthal. This had never happened, even during the alien rule of the Mughals and the British.
It all began with the government resolve to get the controversial Anti-Superstitions Bill passed during the Monsoon session of the State Assembly. The Bill, purportedly drafted at the insistence of some atheist individuals and organisations, namely, Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS) and Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Prof Shyam Manav, and supported by anti-Hindu Congress-NCP coalition government of Maharshtra, has invited the ire of the otherwise peace loving, docile Warkaris and other Hindu organisations in the state.
Warkari is the oldest of the sects of Vaishnava followers in Maharashtra. This was formed during the period of Sant Gyaneshwar, Namdev Maharaj, Sant Chokhamela, Gora Kumbhar and Sant Tukaram Maharaj. These were the saints the land of Maharashtra produced during the peak time of the Mughal rule who inspired the common people to adhere to their dharma at all cost. They heralded the Bhakti Movement in those difficult days.
And the tradition continues even today. Every year lakhs of Warkaris—men, women and children and elderly persons—all tread the path to Pandharpur in South Maharshtra where their beloved Lord Vitthal with his divine consort Rukmini resides. They carry sacred “Tulsi” on their heads, chant the name of Lord Vitthal and sing and dance on way to Pandharpur. On the Ashadhi Ekadashi day they perform puja, offer their respects and return to their native places. The Chief Minister and his wife perform the Mahapuja on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra.
This year the peaceful Warkaris were compelled to take up cudgels against the state government on the issue of this controversial Bill, which the Warkaris and other Hindu organisations feel, is anti-Hindu and aimed at defaming the Hindu Dharma and its adherents. The symbolic stopping of ‘Palkhi Sohala’ on July 12 was just an indication of the anger that is boiling in the hearts of these Warkaris. The heat of this anger was felt by the Chief Minister, who immediately dispatched his trusted Minister Harshvardhan Patil to assuage the feelings of the Warkaris.
Patil dashed to Pune to talk to the agitated Warkaris on the issue. The Chief Minister and other ‘secular’ leaders of the coalition government have been appealing to the Warkaris to accept the Bill. The Chief Minister had even accused them of ‘going too far’ on the issue. The Warkaris too reciprocated by warning the Chief Minister that they would not allow him to perform the Mahapuja of Lord Vitthal if this Bill was not dropped.
This move to bring legislation to halt the superstitions in vogue in Hindu sects under religious practices was under consideration of the Maharashtra Government since 2003. The first draft Bill was presented in that year, which evoked a massive protest from all over the state and the Bill did not see the light of the day. The Government then assured the Warkaris to listen to their views and incorporate them in the revised draft which it did not do this time. Ignoring the sentiments of thousands of Hindus, the Congress-NCP government decided to go ahead with the revised draft of the Bill this time and resolved to get it passed in the Monsoon session of the Assembly.
The Maharashtra Rajya Warkari Mahamandal, the umbrella organisation of the Warkaris, Hindu Jan Jagruti Samiti (HJS), VHP, RSS and all other Hindu organisations raised their voice in unison to oppose the draft Bill. Mahamandal president Narhari Maharaj Chowdhari said, “The Warkaris had staged agitiation during the Pandharpur pilgrimage in 2007 to show their displeasure against the proposed legislation. Ministers in the state then promised that the warkari community would be consulted before the Bill is introduced in the assembly, but the government failed on its promise.”
Rashtriya Warkari Sena president Nivrutti Maharaj Vakte feared that the proposed legislation would allow the MANS to challenge a number of incidents in the lives of the revered saints like Sant Gyaneshwar or Sant Tukaram and thereby defame them and the Hindus. “This we will not allow at any cost”.
Leaders of BJP, Shiv Sena, MNS, have voiced their strongest opposition to this Bill. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by ‘Dainik Sakal’, prominent Marathi news daily owned by NCP Supremo Sharad Pawar’s brother, indicated that 91 per cent people were against the proposed Bill. This showed that the government was in a mood to ignore the popular sentiments and insult the Hindu society.