Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dip in the Ganga as part of the ongoing Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, on February 24. Soon after, Bharatiya Janata Party IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted that Modi was the “first head of state to visit Kumbh in all these years”.

Malviya’s claim is incorrect on two counts.

First, the prime minister is not the head of the state. S/he is the leader of the cabinet of ministers and the head of the executive branch of the government. The president of India is the head of the state. Based on this, the first head of the state to visit Kumbh was the first Indian president Rajendra Prasad. Current president Ram Nath Kovind himself tweeted about this.

Second, Modi is not the first prime minister to visit Kumbh. The first prime minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Kumbh in 1954. In her book Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954, Kama Maclean included a photograph of Nehru from 1954. “In the lead-up to the Mela, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru became personally involved in the arrangements and visited the site, even though it was technically the jurisdiction of the UP government,” she wrote. “On another visit to the Mela on Paush Purnima, in the presence of media photographers, he paused to dip his hand in the sacred waters of the sangam…”

In addition to Nehru, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also visited Kumbh in 1977. Journalist Tavleen Singh said that she present when Gandhi took a dip in the Ganges.

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