Union Home Minister and local MP Rajnath Singh reached Lucknow on Monday evening ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the historic Ram Leela in Aishbagh area of the old city on Dussehra on Tuesday. Uttar Pradesh’s Principal Secretary (Information) Navneet Sahgal said Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav will receive Modi at the city airport but is unlikely to attend the programme.
BJP national vice-president Dinesh Sharma, the patron of Aishbagh Ram Leela, said besides Singh, UP Governor Ram Naik and a state government minister will be present on the dais with Modi. Akhilesh, he added, was also invited but his presence has not been confirmed.
“The Ravan effigy will be burnt after the Prime Minister leaves the venue. Every year we give a social message as the effigy goes up in flames, and the theme this year is ‘atankvaad ka samool naash’ (destruction of terrorism from its roots),” said Harishchandra Agarwal, president of Ram Leela Samiti, the event’s organisers.
Modi, who on Sunday said Vijayadashami (or Dussehra) will be “very special” this year, is expected to be at the Aishbagh venue for about an hour, arriving sometime after 6 pm. He is likely to deliver a 20-minute speech and watch the final act of Ram Leela — the slaying of the demon king — but is scheduled to leave before the Ravan effigy is burnt. Agarwal said approximately 30,000 people will be allowed on the ground, and more than 2 lakh are expected to watch the telecast live on 20 LCD screens put up outside.
Aishbagh Ram Leela, its organisers claim, is one of the oldest and was begun in the 16th century by saint-poet Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramcharitmanas. The event has earlier played host to several UP chief ministers and governors, and Modi will be the first incumbent PM to visit it. Both Akhilesh and BSP chief Mayawati have criticised Modi for visiting the Ram Leela this year — months before the state goes to the polls.