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Polls looming, the second largest Jagannath Yatra of the country at Ludhiana Sunday is set to be a political affair though organisers say they have not invited any politician as chief guest unlike previous years. Organized by ISKCON (International Society for Krsna Consciousness), Ludhiana’s Jagannath Yatra, second only to Jagannath Yatra of Puri in Odisha, is an annual event which sees the display of city’s riches in name of religion.
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This year, none of the political parties are leaving the chance to woo voters in the yatra for upcoming Punjab Assembly polls. Leading the pack would be Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who along with AAP candidates and alliance partner Insaaf Party of Bains brothers, would be attending the event “in his own capacity”.
As the yatra passes through the city, Sisodia and AAP leaders would be doing “maha aarti” at one of the stoppage points at a jewellery shop. As per invites sent out by the jewellery shop owners, the entire senior leadership of AAP-LIP in the state, including HS Phoolka, Harjot Bains, MLA Simarjit Bains, Bhagwant Mann, Gurpreet Ghuggi etc, would be present.
A source in AAP said the party, which is eyeing victory in Punjab polls, could not ignore Ludhiana’s Jagannath Yatra. “Earlier, Kejriwal himself was planning to attend, but due to his other commitments, Sisodia was asked to come,” he said.
Last year, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar was the official chief guest, but organisers claim no political leader has been called as chief guest this year. Satish Gupta, president Rath Yatra Mahotsav Committee, said, “Being an election year, we have avoided calling any politician as our chief guest. Those who are coming are doing so in their own capacities and belief.”
Like previous years, Congress leaders, including MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu whose ticket has been retained from Ludhiana West and Ludhiana Central MLA Surinder Dawar who too has been renominated, will be attending the yatra. “For us it is not about being chief guest. We will attend the yatra like we do every year. Sisodia might be having some political motives behind attending this yatra, but for us it is our duty,” said Ashu.
Akali Dal district president Madan Lal Bagga said none of senior SAD leaders had confirmed their attendance as yet but he will be present. Even as the entire Ludhiana is decked up like a bride, what dominates the religious event are the illegal hoardings and advertisements of various brands and industrial houses encroaching every nook and corner of route of the yatra, from Mata Rani Mandir to Fountain Chowk and then whole of Ghumar Mandi, Sarabha Nagar and reaching its final destination in BRS Nagar temple.
Last year, almost 70 mobile phones were stolen by pickpockets during the yatra. Food wastage and littering also becomes rampant as food stalls are set up by devotees at every step of yatra. It is going to be a choked Sunday for Ludhiana as BJP will also be holding its Yuva Morcha rally at Dana Mandi near Jalandhar bypass. Senior BJP leaders, including Poonam Mahajan and Anurag Thakur, will be addressing the rally. Ravinder Arora, BJP district president, said if Mahajan reaches city before the scheduled rally timings, she will attend the Rath Yatra too. Else, state BJP president Vijay Sampla will be at the rath yatra to represent BJP.
Both yatra and BJP rally are scheduled around 2 pm and city traffic is expected to choke from Jalandhar bypass to Ferozepur road. Police claim adequate diversions have been planned to ease traffic.