The head of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust in Ayodhya, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, tested positive for Covid-19 in Mathura on Wednesday and was admitted to Medanta Hospital in Gurugram when his health deteriorated.
All those who attended the Bhoomipujan at Ayodhya on August 5 must be keeping their fingers crossed because the Mahant was seen almost snuggling close to Prime Minister Modi during the foundation laying ritual. And all this while, the head priest was without a mask!
Also in the inner circle, at this point, was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
In all probability, all those who were to come in contact with the PM must have been subjected to health protocols. Nonetheless, there are reasons for anxiety, as corona infected cases usually exhibit symptoms after 7-14 days of catching the virus. Also, they start shedding the virus even before the onset of symptoms. Doctors advise not to stay in close proximity to any person for more than 15 minutes to avoid catching an infection.
The Mathura administration, too, has pressed the panic button and started contact tracing saints who attended the Krishna Janmashtami festival on Tuesday and Wednesday, even as the Ayodhya authorities are worried about the 170 dignitaries who attended the Bhoomipujan. Among others, Yogi Adityanath had come in close contact with Mahant Nritya Gopal Das that day.
What has added to the state administration’s consternation is that the Mahant never wears a mask, which is otherwise mandatory for everyone under the Epidemic Act.
“The Prime Minister had reached Ayodhya bhoomipujan venue at around 11:45 am on August 5. Mahant ji was then on the premises, until the PM left for Delhi around 3 PM,” Sharad Sharma, a VHP leader said.
Given his importance in the pecking order, the Mahant stood adjacent to the prime minister and CM Yogi on the dais along with Bhagwat, when they addressed the gathering and the nation after the rituals. While all three leaders wore masks, the Mahant didn’t.
No official announcement with regard to quarantine or corona testing of the dignitaries was made till late Thursday night. But experts feel excessive caution needs to be exercised and all those who came in contact with the Mahant in the last two weeks need to be quarantined and tested.
Former MP CM Uma Bharti and 135 seers belonging to various spiritual traditions had also attended the Ayodhya ceremony. It is unclear who all personally met the Mahant.
VHP leader Sharma insists, “Mahant ji didn’t meet many people during the ceremony due to the pandemic curbs. Very few people could touch his feet. People greeted him from a distance.”
Mahant lives with 200 saints
The Mahant, a bachelor, stays inside the huge temple premises of Mani Das Chhavni which has over 100 rooms and houses more than 200 saints and seers. At least four disciples are always at his beck and call.
Sharma said that the Mani Das Chhavni Temple premises have been sanitized by the Ayodhya administration.
Three persons had accompanied the head priest in a car to Mathura as well. He neither wore a mask in Mathura nor in Ayodhya, the two places where religious congregations have been held in a span of seven days.
All three of them have been put to tests and their reports were awaited.
On August 8, ‘Mahant ji’ donated 125 kg silver, gold grains, a cheque of Rs1 lakh and Rs1.5 lakh cash to Champat Rai, VHP leader and secretary of the Ram Temple Trust. In this small gathering again, no one wore a mask.
Contempt of Court?
Activist Saket Gokhle had approached the Allahabad HC seeking cancellation of the ceremony in the view of the pandemic but his plea was dismissed as the government had promised to follow social distancing and other epidemic norms; Saket now says there are clear grounds to file for contempt of court.
“With Mahant Nritya Gopaldas testing positive for Covid-19, what I'd argued has sadly come true. He shockingly DID NOT wear a mask & neither did PM Modi follow social distancing protocol around him as ordered by the court. This is a clear ground for filing for contempt of court,” he wrote on twitter posting Ayodhya pictures from August 5.