Taking into consideration the fast rising COVID-19 cases in the country, the Uttarakhand government on Thursday, suspended the Char Dham Yatra for this year.
The yatra which was scheduled to begin from May 14th would have included Hindu devotees visiting four pilgrimage sites namely, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in the state as an annual practice.
Tirat Singh Rawat, the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand briefed that yearly rituals will be performed at the shrines by four priests but an exception is being made this year by not allowing devotees to visit the shrines because of COVID situation.
The announcement came a week after the Uttarakhand High Court questioned the state government’s rationale in giving permission for Char Dham Yatra. While hearing several PILs related to the COVID-19 management of the state government, the bench also questioned the state’s decision to continue Kumbh Mela amidst a raging pandemic and said that the state made a laughing stock of itself by doing that. It also observed that the Yatra ‘cannot be allowed to turn into another Kumbh’ pointing towards the incredible spike in the number of COVID-19 cases since the onset of the Mela.
It is important to note that Haridwar, a city in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled state has also been a host to Kumbh Mela, a holy congregation of Hindus which saw an attendance of over 4.8 million pilgrims and an apparent failure of the state management to observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs) during the month long event.
Amidst widespread criticism of the mass gatherings of Hindus in the Mela, on April, 17 the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to people to observe the Mela symbolically so as to prevent any further spread of the virus. Many religious leaders of the community associated with Akhadas also appealed to people to not travel in huge numbers to the state. However, no official government order was passed regarding cancelation of the event and crowds continued to gather for the festival up until Tuesday, April, 27. The COVID-19 cases in Uttarakhand saw a steep rise with 1,863 active COVID-19 cases on March 31 right before the event began into 43, 032 cases till April, 27.
As reported by ANI, 6,054 new coronavirus cases and 108 deaths were officially recorded on Wednesday in the state. It also reported that the official data released by the health department shows that the state currently has 45,383 active COVID-19 cases.
Elections and Religious Congregations
The second wave of the pandemic in India began its murderous rampage three months into 2021 with a daily number of COVID-19 cases rising to 2.34 lakh and 1341 deaths, both in the span of just 24 hours on April, 17. The national outcry due to a broken healthcare system unable to bear this unprecedented burden—an emergency resulting from inefficient strategic planning and deliberate ignorance towards warnings and suggestions by several public health experts on the part of the BJP led current central government.
At a time when the central and state governments should have invested money, manpower and come up with informed policy measures to take control of the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, the primary focus was on conducting super spreader events like Kumbh Mela and election related programs. When the cases began to rise sharply and required immediate attention and action from the government, Narendra Modi, along with the Home Minister, Amit Shah continued to hold massive election rallies throughout West Bengal with complete disregard for COVID-19 safety guidelines, appearing everytime without a mask in public.
Firstpost reported that COVID-19 cases saw an increase of 3,489 percent in the timespan of just seven weeks in West Bengal with 198 cases recorded on Feb 1 to 6,910 cases on April, 16. The number of active cases in the state continues to be above 1 lakh. On Monday, the Madras High Court reprimanded the Election Commision of India for allowing political rallies to continue in the face of a deadly pandemic. Sanjib Banerjee, the Chief Justice of the High court addressed the ECI and said “Were you on another planet when political rallies were being held?”
The same day, national vice-president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dr. Navjot Dahiya called Modi a “super-spreader” and said that, “While the medical fraternity is trying hard to make people understand mandatory Covid-19 norms, PM Modi did not hesitate to address big political rallies, tossing all Covid-19 norms in the air”.
Simultaneously Hindu devotees were not only allowed to gather for Kumbh Mela but special arrangements like running trains for pilgrims to travel to the state of Uttarakhand and use of public money on security and health related arrangements for the event, all in an effort to appease country’s Hindu majority, the primary demography that forms BJP’s vote bank.
On Wednesday, India registered a record high in the number of COVID-19 cases per day with over 3.6 lakh cases and 3293 deaths in 24 hours even when several states continue to downplay COVID related numbers.