Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated a Shila temple (of rock) at Holy Tukaram Maharaj mandir (temple) dedicated to the 17th-century saint at Dehu, near Pune, a move seen as raising awareness of Maharashtra’s Warkari sect,
A community that traces its roots to the Bhakti movement, the Warkaris claim to be apolitical and caste agnostic. Members of this community are devotees of Marathi saints Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar and Namdeo among others.
While BJP leaders have officially declared that PM Modi’s rally in Dehu should be viewed only from a ‘spiritual perspective’, political observers say the event was part of a well-known Warkari sensitization campaign. party thought in western Maharashtra.
The timing of Modi’s visit to Dehu is also crucial, given that the ‘Wari’ – annual Warkaris pilgrimage – is set to begin next week.
“We must not politicize the Prime Minister’s visit because he did not make any political speech. It was a spiritual visit,” BJP MP Ram Kadam told ThePrint.
However, a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonymity that while Modi’s visit may have spiritual implications, it could help the BJP electorally since “it was the first time that a Prime Minister was attending a program of the Warkari sect”.
Political analysts Hemant Desai and Pratap Asbe agreed.
“Previously, nobody saw Warkaris as a community to be exploited (electorally). But it is a well thought out strategy. The Warkari sect has a lot of prominence in Maharashtra and its (Modi’s) announcements have been received with applause everywhere,” Desai told ThePrint.
Asbe said, “Going to Dehu is like going straight to the Warkaris and the Bahujan Samaj (Backward classes).
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Warkaris & ‘Wari’
Modi showed up at the rally of around 50,000 Warkari Tuesday in traditional Warkari attire – wearing a turban and shawl, with a tika (vermilion) on his forehead.
After offering prayers at the Vitthal Rukhmini Temple, Prime Minister Modi began his speech with lines from a ‘Abhanga’a devotional verse, and referenced his party’s ubiquitous slogan saying that his government follows the teachings of the Warkari saints, following the principle of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas”.
The Prime Minister further reiterated his government’s commitment to spend Rs 11,000 crore on the development of two ‘PalkhiMarg(pilgrimage routes)’ extending over 350 kilometres.
Advocate Vikas Dhage Patil, an official of the Shree Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Sansthan committee at Alandi in Pune, said the Warkaris do not subscribe to any caste or religion and are followers of saints who themselves are from different castes.
“Tolerance and inclusiveness is the idea behind this (Warkari sect). The message about a casteless society has led to the social movement,” Dhage Patil added.
The sect is most visible when undertaking the annual “Wari” pilgrimage, which dates back nearly 700 to 800 years, Dhage Patil said.
For centuries, the temple cities of Dehu and Alandi have been the starting points of the “Wari”, which sees the participation of thousands of devotees who accompany the padukas (representation of the feet) of Holy Tukaram and Holy Dnyaneshwar, respectively, in Pandharpur.
“A person from a ‘lower caste’ can also participate in the Wari, while we also have many Muslim participants. All you need to be is a devotee of the saint,” Dhage Patil said.
While many of those who participate in the ‘Wari’ are farmers, one can also spot professionals among the 12 lakh Warkaris – as estimated by Dhage Patil – who gather in Pandharpur every year for the pilgrimage.
‘BJP wants to appeal to Bahujan Samaj‘
Referring to Modi’s rally in Dehu, political analyst Pratap Asbe told ThePrint that political motives cannot be ruled out. “The BJP wants to directly appeal to the Bahujan Samaj since Holy Tukaram has a higher appeal in that community,” he told ThePrint.
Political analyst Hemant Desai added that Modi’s outreach to Warkaris can be seen as an attempt by the BJP to shed its ‘upper caste label’ and make inroads into rural parts of the state, particularly western Maharashtra, which includes Dehu, Alandi and Pandharpur. .
In May last year, BJP managed to beat Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in a indirect vote at the assembly headquarters of Pandharpur-Mangalvedha in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. BJP candidate Samadhan Autade recorded a victory in the by-vote by beating Bhagirath Bhalke of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) by a margin of over 3,700 votes.
“The Warkaris belong to all castes and communities, but the Marathas are overwhelmingly dominant. The people of rural Maharashtra are particularly associated with the Wari and the BJP wants to take rural Maharashtra with them,” Desai said.
The BJP leader who spoke to ThePrint on condition of anonymity said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to don traditional Warkari attire, recite an ‘Abhanga’ and hold the Veena – an instrument held by Holy Tukaram and other Marathi saints – struck a chord with the Warkaris.
“It’s not easy,” the BJP leader said. “With all of this, people have connected to the fact that this man is one of us.”
(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)
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