Lucknow: Accused by political opponents of tilting towards Muslims, the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in Uttar Pradesh is now seeking to woo the majority community by launching a scheme to send 1,000 Hindu senior citizens on state-funded pilgrimages every year.
Principal secretary for religious affairs Navneet Sehgal said that next year these pilgrims would be sent to Rishikesh and Haridwar in neighbouring Uttarakhand on a train chartered by the state government through the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
This trip, exclusively for bonafide residents of Uttar Pradesh, would take the selected citizens to Haridwar, from where they would travel in batches of 45-50 in air-conditioned luxury buses. The pilgrims would be provided budget lodging and given a travel kit.
"Other than this, they would be given morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea - only on the train journey - and a vegetarian dinner," Sehgal added.
"The state government has often been accused by our political adversaries of minority appeasement but am sure they will realize that our government works for all sections of society," a senior cabinet minister told IANS on condition of anonymity, adding that even successive BJP governments in the state had not initiated anything like this.
In Haridwar they would share space in a dormitory at a hotel or at a `dharamshala`. IRCTC employees would assist the state government in this endeavour and would be exclusively available at the beck-and-call of the senior citizens. Armed guards from the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) will also be requisitioned for the safety and security of the travellers, Sehgal said.
He said applications for the trip should be deposited with the district magistrates during January 1-20, 2015, with March 9 being fixed as the tentative date of the first journey. State capital Lucknow has been accorded special status and allocated 115 berths, with the district magistrate being asked to ensure that the "facility is adequately publicized and availed."
Budgetary allocations for the pilgrimage have already been made by the state government and have the approval of Governor Ram Naik, another official said, declining to give figures.
In the subsequent year, the pilgrimage has been planned for Pushkar and Ajmer, with new spots every year.
The Akhilesh Yadav government had last year too rolled out a similar initiative for Hindus by giving subsidies to pilgrims undertaking the holy Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Cash subsidy of Rs 25,000 was given to 45 people last year, while for this year the number is 43 but the subsidy has been hiked to Rs 50,000, the official informed.