A three-way contest of political rallies is shaping up in Muktsar, site of Punjab’s annual Maghi Mela on Thursday. The main stakeholders in the state’s politics — the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party — are each organising a massive rally.
One party notably absent is the PPP of Manpreet Singh Badal, who has never gone without a Maghi Mela rally since he formed his party. His absence has led to speculation about a possible understanding with one of the main stakeholders — at this stage believed to be the Congress.
The Maghi Mela is held to honour the memory of 40 Sikh warriors killed during the Battle of Muktsar in 1705. Political conferences have been an annual feature of the mega event. Each of the three parties has claimed it has booked the largest plot of land and its crowd will be the biggest.
“We are holding a rally on a plot of 40 acres,” said Durgesh Pathak, national organisational building head of AAP. The Maghi Mela will serve as a virtual launchpad of AAP’s poll campaign, with Arvind Kejriwal arriving in a state where his party is pitching itself as a strong contender for the 2017 elections. Kejriwal will address his first political rally in the state. He has released a video clip in which he speaks in Punjabi, inviting people to reach the mela.
“We have a groundswell of supporters who have not left any village without a poster being pasted on the walls,” Pathak said. “We just sent them soft copies and they themselves got the posters printed and pasted. People of Punjab are hiring trucks, buses and tractors to travel to the venue. Other than paying for the land and the tent, we did not have to spend a single paisa on organising the event.”
The AAP’s state leadership held a fundraising dinner at a Bathinda hotel Monday evening and collected Rs 8.5 lakh from 170 guests at Rs 5,000 each. Neel Garg, media-in-charge from Bathinda, said the funds would go into the Maghi Mela conference. This is besides an “AAP ka Daan” to collect funds from the public at various rallies organised by leaders across Malwa region since December 26.
The SAD claimed it has booked 60 acres for its event, which Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal will address. The party made it a point to stress that it has taken a venue larger than that of AAP. “Although we are not organising a state rally as we are concentrating only on the Malwa region, AAP can never match us. Our pandal alone will be 25 acres,” said Parambans Singh Romana, chairman of the party’s youth development board.
SAD’s alliance partner BJP appears undecided on participating in the rally. BJP leaders said they are preoccupied with the party president’s election, likely soon.
The Congress, for its part, claims it has rented a plot of 40 acres. It is banking on the crowd-pulling abilities of Amarinder Singh.
“We had earlier chosen a 30-acre ground but now have taken up 10 acres more space. We will put up a united show with former Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa and all senior leaders coming together,” said a Congress leader.
Mela minus Manpreet
There has been talk about Manpreet entering into a pact with the Congress and contesting the election on the palm symbol. Sources close to him predicted the pact would be given final shape Friday in Delhi, the day after the Maghi Mela. Amid the speculation, Manpreet has called a press conference Wednesday.
On record, PPP leaders said there is no specific reason for Manpreet skipping the Muktsar event. And a Congress leader said, “Our rally will be a 100 per cent Congress show and no one else has been invited.”
Manpreet, estranged nephew of CM Badal, formed the PPP in 2011 and has held a political event on every Maghi Mela since. “There is no specific reason why we have decided to stay away this year after having held rallies on every previous Maghi Mela,” said PPP vice president Jaijeet Singh Johal.
The Maghi Mela political conference, in fact, was the only one in which the PPP participated, skipping such events at all other melas in other districts. Manpreet has said in the past, “I hail from this area and hence it is all the more important to be part of the Maghi Mela political conference.”
With Raakhi Jagga in Ludhiana