Amid a growing demand of BJP leaders for renaming Allahabad as Prayag, party chief Amit Shah on Friday visited the Sangam city where he interacted with Hindu seers and participated in prayers and rituals.

While Mr. Shah did not speak to media during his day-long visit of the city, it is being seen as politically significant as Allahabad is set to host the Kumbh Mela (formerly known as Ardh Kumbh) from January to March 2019, around the time when the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections is expected to be at its peak.

The Yogi Adityanath government plans to make the upcoming Kumbh an even bigger spectacle than the 2013 Maha Kumbh. The State claims that 120 million pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the Kumbh Mela. The government also aims to attract at least four-five pilgrims from each of the over 6,00,000 villages in the country. NRI delegates who will attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas summit in Varanasi (January 21-23) during the same time would also be shown around the Mela.

In Allahabad, Mr. Shah laid the foundation of a yoga and meditation centre at the Sangam and offered prayers at the Maujgiri temple of the Juna Akhara. He also inaugurated a ghat for the Maujgiri temple on the banks of the Yamuna, besides performing aarti at the Yamuna ghat, and offered prayers at the famous Bade Hanuman Mandir.

Mr. Shah’s visit to Allahabad comes amid a demand by senior BJP leaders and the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), the apex governing body of 13 major Hindu akharas in the country, to rename Allahabad as Prayag. U.P. Cabinet Minister Sidharth Nath Singh had recently written to Governor Ram Naik requesting him to rechristen Allahabad. In his letter, Mr. Singh cited the significance of Prayag in “ancient Hindu texts” as a cultural centre. Then on July 22, a delegation of seers led by Swami Narendra Giri, head of the ABAP, met Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya and pressed the same demand.

Talking to
The Hindu
, Swami Narendra Giri said Mr. Shah had assured him that Allahabad would be renamed Prayag soon. “[My] demand has been fulfilled. There will be no hurdles. This proposal is going to be passed by the State Cabinet,” Swami Narendra Giri said.

The seer also said Mr. Shah’s interaction with seers during his Allahabad trip, which included a lunch at the Baghambari Gaddi, was focused on the preparations for the Kumbh Mela. He said the Ram Mandir issue was not discussed on the day.

‘Not political’

BJP spokesperson Chandramohan said Mr. Shah’s visit should not be linked to politics or the 2019 polls. “It was a spiritual yatra on the day of Guru Purnima,” he said, adding that the visit was focused on reviewing preparations for the Kumbh and also a part of his outreach programme, ‘Sampark for Samarthan’.

Mr. Shah’s visit came a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicks off a two-day visit of Lucknow where he will launch 95 projects related to urban housing and infrastructure, and the Smart Cities scheme, and participate in the ground-breaking ceremony of mega projects in U.P. worth a massive Rs. 60,000 crore that were pledged by investors during the UP Investors Summit 2018 in February.

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