NEW DELHI -- When Shaktiman, the majestic horse of the Uttarakhand Police Force, was fighting for its life, Chief Minister Harish Rawat promised the best possible care for the animal, which sustained multiple injuries during a protest march in March. His government took swift action against the Bhartiya Janata Party lawmaker Ganesh Joshi, who was accused of hitting Shaktiman.
When Shaktiman died on April 20, Rawat called the horse "brave soldier of Uttarakhand," and the 14-year-old horse which had loyally served the police force for most of its life was buried with full state honors.
Less than three months on, Rawat literally fled the venue where he was scheduled to inaugurate a statute of Shaktiman, saying, "Let the next government inaugurate the statue of Shaktiman," and he appears to have got his name struck off from the plaque honoring the horse.
Not only has the Congress Party leader displayed a shameful lack of empathy to the memory of a horse, which millions of Indians fell in love with and prayed for, but it is even more startling that his odd behavior is being attributed to a fear of angering Golu Devta, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, who rides a white horse similar to Shaktiman, and is revered in the Kumaon region of the northern state. Rawat, too, is a Kumaoni from Pithoragarh.
While Rawat like any other Indian citizen is entitled to his religious beliefs, he is also a public figure, and is probably well aware that superstitions are the cause of countless social evils in our country, which reinforce prejudices against women and disempowered members of our society. All sentiment aside, the Uttarakhand government paid Rs. Five Lakhs for Shaktiman's statue, and it is highly questionable for the chief minister to waste taxpayers money on account of his personal beliefs.
A second statue of Shaktiman disappeared from its pedestal at Rispina Bridge near the assembly building in Uttarakhand just a few days after it was installed on Saturday.
Congress Party leaders have told The Times of India that "spiritual guides and astrologers" had advised Rawat not to get involved with Shaktiman's statue because this could adversely affect his chances in the 2017 state polls. "A man from Kumaon will never do anything which is against our devta," one senior Congress Party leader told TOI.
Rawat hasn't exactly denied speculation that his actions are dictated by fear of Golu Devta. "I agree that I am a religious man, but superstition has nothing to do with the issue," he told TOI, insisting that he had decided not to inaugurate the statue several days ahead of the ceremony.
That doesn't quite ring true because Rawat left the venue of inauguration at the Police Lines on Monday after the nine-foot statue of Shaktiman had been decorated, and the band was belting out music in honor of the horse. The fact that the statue had to be covered with plastic after the chief minister fled only adds insult to injury.
Famous astrologer Bejan Daruwalla also happened to be in Dehradun to celebrate his 86th birthday on Monday, and met with Rawat. After prophesying that Rawat will win the floor test to end President Rule in the state, Daruwalla has foretold that he will continue his stint as the chief minister.
If Rawat abandoned Shaktiman because he feared that Golu Devta would smite his chances for the 2017 polls, then Uttarakhand can do better.
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