Politics in the national capital over Chhath Puja celebrations has intensified after the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) last week instructed officials to ensure the festival is not performed at public places, river banks and temples this year in view of the pandemic.
Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should honour religious sentiments of people and lift the ban. “… if they had made preparations on time, there would be no need for the ban,” he said. BJP Northeast Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari added, “Every religious place has been opened as per social distancing, then why can’t Chhath also be done with social distancing… the number of ghats should have been increased and restrictions imposed on the number of people entering them.”
The Delhi government did not respond to queries seeking a comment on the issue. AAP’s Purvanchal MLAs, however, said the decision was taken by the DDMA, headed by the Lt-Governor.
Chhath puja is celebrated in the capital by Purvanchalis — a term used in Delhi’s political parlance for people of Eastern UP, Bihar and parts of Jharkhand — who constitute over 30% of the city’s population. The two-day festival, falling on November 20-21, involves worship of the Sun God, typically at a water body like a river, pond or a tank. In recent times, it has taken a political colour with both AAP and BJP eyeing Purvanchal voters who dominate 20 Assembly constituencies.
Speaking to The Indian Express, AAP MLA Dilip Pandey said, “The decision is of the DDMA, whose chairperson is the L-G… if a consensus (to celebrate) is built, then why not. For me, the health of people is important, as also their faith.”
AAP Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti, a Purvanchali from Nawada district of Bihar, added: “We have no choice but to go with the government; I too perform Chhath Puja… everyone has the option to do it in closed spaces… In normal times, the government would not have taken the decision but people have lost lives due to the pandemic.”
Kirari MLA Ritu Raj, who hails from Bihar’s Samastipur, told The Indian Express that the government has said people can celebrate at home: “The festival involves entering water so there were apprehensions that many people could be affected.”
Perceived as a Congress vote bank earlier, Purvanchali voters shifted to AAP in large numbers during the 2015 Assembly elections when 13 leaders with a Purvanchal background had won. The BJP in 2016 had appointed Tiwari, who comes from Bihar, as state president of Delhi unit — till then dominated by Punjabi and Bania leaders — to attract these voters.
Last year, both the AAP-led Delhi government and BJP’s MCD leaders spent large sums on Chhath ghat preparation.
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