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Maghi Mela: the road to the 2017 Punjab polls begins here

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:15 IST

The fair

  • The annual Maghi Mela at Sri Muktsar Sahib in Punjab has religious significance for Sikhs
  • Over the years, it has also become a platform for political rallies

Special occasion

  • This time, the Mela will be extra special. The road to the 2017 assembly polls begins here.
  • All three major players - SAD (Badal), Congress and AAP - plan to host big rallies

More in the story

  • What issues will Cong and AAP use against the govt?
  • How are the Badals planning to defend their 10-year rule?

Every year, Sri Muktsar Sahib in Punjab hosts the Maghi Mela in the month of Magh, as per the Nanakshahi calendar. But this year, this socio-cultural event will be a special one, because the run up to the 2017 assembly elections begins here.

The Maghi Mela is one of Punjab's major fairs, and has religious significance for Sikhs. It marks the battle of Muktsar in 1705, where 40 Sikh warriors laid down their lives for Guru Gobind Singh while fighting the Mughals.

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Over the last few decades, it has become an event with enormous political importance. Almost all important political personalities of the day, including the Chief Minister, have been descending on Muktsar to address their supporters.

This time around, though, rather than a shouting match between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and the Congress, there will be a third party vying for attention too - the Aam Aadmi Party.

The Congress agenda

Bolstered by the return of Captain Amarinder Singh as the state chief of the party, Congress leaders want to use the stage to go ballistic against the current regime, headed by Prakash Singh Badal and his son and deputy, Sukhbir.

"There is no dearth of issues available to us to pin down the government. The event is a religious one, but has also assumed political colour over the decades. Hence, we also use it to put across our point of view. This time around, the agenda is very simple: to get rid of the Badals and their government in order to save Punjab," said senior Congress leader Lal Singh.

The Maghi Mela is one of Punjab's major fairs, and has religious significance for Sikhs

He said the Congress will raise its concerns over the return of terrorist attacks to the state after two decades, and other issues, such as the state's economy.

"The state's economy is in a mess; it stands burdened with a debt of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. There has been no industrial development; that has led to unemployment and youth taking to drugs. The government policies have failed. The agriculture sector has also collapsed, with farmers buried under debts. The government itself has gone bankrupt. We will be raising all these issues one by one," Lal Singh said.

Akalis' defence

There's no doubt that the Akalis will face an acid test in defending their leadership and the decade-old government at the event.

The party is on the defensive, and will try to put up a brave front in public. But, having been in power for 10 consecutive years, it cannot say it did not have time to formulate and implement policies for the people.

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The government stands cornered on several fronts, and ministers and party leaders have been facing public hostility over the last several months. Ministers have been shown black flags at events and in villages that they have visited.

However, the party seems undaunted by the criticism. Senior leader Virsa Singh Valtoha told Catch that people are being misled by the Congress and AAP.

Putting the onus on the Centre for the Dina Nagar and Pathankot terrorist attacks, he said: "Terrorism is a global problem. While the Punjab government will take care of its shortcomings to tackle such incidents, the Government of India is also taking steps in the direction."

Valtoha added the state had developed under the Badal regime. "We will tell the people how their lifestyle has improved in the last one decade. It is a noise being created by the opposition parties that the government has done nothing for the people. The Badal government is perhaps the only government that is spending Rs 5,000 crore on providing free power to the farmers. Even small farmers today have tubewells of 10 horse power. It is for the Centre to address issues like minimum support price for the crops and provide a proper marketing infrastructure to the farmers," he said.

Regarding the state's debt mountain, he said people need to understand that the money that was borrowed in order to spend on providing better infrastructure like road connectivity etc.

The Kejriwal factor

But all eyes during this Maghi Mela would be on the AAP. Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, will be addressing its rally, and cadres have been working hard to make the event a success.

"We will raise issues pertaining to the unemployment of youth, rampant drug smuggling, police atrocities, farm crisis and sick industries," said party leader Durgesh Pathak.

While Cong & AAP are preparing strong attacks on the ruling Akalis, the Badals are on the defensive

Kejriwal has already tried to strike a chord with the Punjabi electorate by uploading a small video address in Punjabi on YouTube, which has gone viral. Party sources said that he is also learning the language seriously and would soon be addressing people in chaste Punjabi.

Sources said the party will not be announcing its chief ministerial candidate at this point of time.

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First published: 13 January 2016, 4:17 IST