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Kanwar Yatra begins, BJP revives old line of attack against rival SP

BJP alleges Akhilesh Yadav govt used to hassle pilgrims; SP dismisses ‘lies’

Meerut, Kanwar Yatra, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav, Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh news, Lucknow, Lucknow news, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsCM Adityanath offers prayers on the first day of Shravan at a temple in Gorakhpur, Thursday. PTI

The Kanwar Yatra, which began on Thursday, is an important part of the religious calendar of thousands of Shiva devotees in north India, especially western Uttar Pradesh. In the past few years, it has become the site of intense political contestation between the BJP and the SP, which was in power in UP between 2012 and 2017.

“Akhilesh Yadav had put a blanket ban on DJs and loudspeakers during the Yatra, free meals in temples for devotees were disallowed, and the then official machinery deliberately diverted the routes of the Yatra to ensure that devotees had to go through a long route to bring the holy water from the Ganga in Haridwar,” alleged BJP Trade Cell chief for west UP Vineet Sharda.

Several devotees concur with the BJP’s view and claim that it had become easier for them to conduct the yatra on their terms since the Yogi Adityanath government came to power in 2017. The pilgrims were also feted by the Adityanath government in 2018, with the CM undertaking an aerial survey of a yatra route and showering the Kanwarias, as the devotees are known, with flower petals. The government’s support received an enthusiastic response from the devotees, with slogans such as “DJ bajwa diye Yogi ne, Bhole nachwa diye Yogi ne (Yogi switched on DJ, Yogi made the devotees dance)” and “Akhilesh ne hukum sunaya tha, DJ per ban lagaya tha, 2017 ke chunav me Bhole ne usey haraya tha. Chhakke chhura diye Yogi ne (Akhilesh had issued a diktat, DJs were banned. In 2017, Lord Shiva ensured his defeat, Yogi has cut him to size).”

State Home Secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi, who supervised the Yatra preparations in Meerut on Thursday along with Director General of Police (DGP) DS Chauhan said the CM had instructed that devotees be showered with flower petals this year too to “boost their morale”. He added, “There also will be no restriction on DJs but they will have to maintain the sound limit within the allowed decibel units.  Besides the showering of flower petals, there will be elaborate arrangements for boarding and lodging of the devotees and high-class medical facilities will also be available for them during the fortnight.” Awasthi and Chauhan also performed puja at the famous Augarnath temple before taking a tour of the Yatra route.

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RSS leader Ajay Tyagi also alleged that the SP government used to hassle the Kanwarias and claimed that since coming to power Adityanath had taken an “active interest” in their welfare.

Among the Kanwarias, several belong to Dalit and Other Backward Class (OBC) communities and the BJP’s gesture for the pilgrims helps the party consolidate its position in these groups.

Dismissing the BJP-RSS allegations, SP Meerut president Rajpal Singh said, “If the BJP leaders say that Akhilesh Yadav put a ban on DJs during the Kanwar Yatra and restricted free food distribution from temples, why did they not come out with a government order supporting their allegation? Akhilesh ji never put a ban on DJs or spoke about the movement of devotees.”

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Curbs in place

Since the BJP has come to power, the sale of meat and liquor along the Kanwar Yatra route from Ghaziabad to Haridwar remains on hold, with many shops shutting down during the  yatra or selling vegetable or soya biryani. This time around, the Noida administration instructed the closure of meat and liquor shops along all routes of the Yatra in the district. The same thing is seen in other parts of west UP too.

“We voluntarily decided not to sell meat biryani during the Kanwar Yatra in 2018 and 2019 and sold paneer biryani,” said Abdul Rehman who sells biryani in Meerut’s Ghantaghar area. “This year too, we will do the same. Though our sales go down by 20 per cent during the two weeks, we are ready to bear the losses for our Hindu brothers.”

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A 20 per cent decline in sales amounts to a loss of about Rs 6,000 per day or approximately Rs 84,000 during the fortnight of the yatra.

Not only biryani and meat sellers, owners of small and big industrial units along the Yatra route also face problems because of restrictions on the movement of heavy vehicles on the highway. These curbs affect the supply of raw materials to these units. Partapur Industrial Association official Rajeev Singhal said, “We have to shut down our units for these days as we do not get raw material. There are around 600 major and minor industrial units dotted on the highway or in cities and the estimated loss is almost Rs 150 crore. But we are happy to bear it for Lord Shiva and the Kanwarias’ faith.”

Explaining the traffic restrictions that will be in place beginning Thursday, Meerut SP (Traffic) Jitendra Kumar said, “There was a movement of around three crore devotees on the route during the Kanwar days in 2019 and this year we are expecting almost double that figure because the Yatra remained suspended for two years due to Covid-19. Movement of of heavy vehicles on the highway from July 14 to 26 will be restricted and we will also block lighter vehicles from July 23 to ensure that devotees do not face any hurdles.”

First published on: 15-07-2022 at 04:53:08 am
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