The Madhya Pradesh government's controversial move to grant 'Minister of State' (MoS) status to five religious leaders has raised eyebrows, with an apex organisation of 'akhadas' accusing the saints of "blackmailing" Shivraj Singh Chouhan and asserting the chief minister should not have buckled under pressure.
The president of Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP), an umbrella body of 13 main 'akhadas' (religious orders) in the country, also said appropriate action would taken against the five saints if it is found they are associated with any such religious organisations.
"Saints should not indulge in blackmailing," Mahant Narendra Giri told PTI over phone, calling for the five to introspect.
The state BJP government on Tuesday accorded the MoS status to five Hindu religious leaders — Narmadanand Maharaj, Hariharanand Maharaj, Computer Baba, Bhayyu Maharaj and Pandit Yogendra Mahant. The state goes to polls later this year.
The five saints had proposed a stir against an alleged scam in the state government's Narmada conservation programme. A day after getting the 'MoS' status, two of them yesterday cancelled their proposed agitation.
"Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan should not have buckled under pressure of the 'Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra'," Giri said.
Now after getting the MoS status, the saints are saying that no scam has taken place and "all was hunky-dory", he noted.
"Saints should not indulge in such black-mailing," the revered Hindu pontiff opined, adding it was unbecoming of them to cancel a campaign after getting the MoS status.
"If they are accepting the MoS status for greed, it means that in true terms they have not renounced the 'carnal pleasures'," he said.
The MoS status to the saints has marred their reputation, Giri said, adding that he would write to these religious leaders to introspect.
On March 31, the five were appointed to a committee set up for the Narmada river conservation.
Computer Baba had earlier announced to take out the 'Narmada Ghotala Rath Yatra' along with Yogendra Mahant in every district of the state from April 1 to May 15, to expose the alleged scam in planting saplings on the banks of the Narmada river and to demand a ban on illegal sand mining.
The publicity material of the campaign was also circulated widely on social media.
However, after getting the MoS status, Computer Baba yesterday said they have cancelled the campaign because the state government fulfilled their demand to form a committee of saints and seers for protection of the Narmada river.
"Now why would we take out the yatra?" he had said.
On accepting the government facilities meant for an MoS, the saint, "If we do not get the post and other government facilities, how can we work for the protection of the Narmada?"
"As a member of the committee, we have to talk to the district collectors and look after other necessary arrangements for the river's conservation. A government status is required for these works," he pointed out.
Giri, however, asked, "Who can stop a saint who wants to work for the society by conserving the Narmada river, or, in this connection, wants to expose a scam? What sort of a behaviour is this?"
Seeking to downplay the controversy over grant of MoS status to the five saints, Chouhan earlier said his government wanted to rope in people from all walks of life for welfare and development.
The opposition Congress has dubbed the decision to appoint them as MoS as the BJP's attempt to exploit the respect these religious leaders enjoy in the society for electoral gains.
The BJP has hit back at the Congress, saying the opposition party dislikes anything related to saints.