Anandpur Sahib, Punjab:Sans any political slugfest and leaders’ vitriolsoaked speeches against each other, Hola Mohalla celebrations were different this year. It had the usual hustle and bustle — sea of devotees dressed in blue and saffron outfits, langars (community kitchens) on all roads leading to the Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, and prayers filling the air — but the Election Commission’s ban on “political” rallies in view of the approaching Lok Sabha polls ensured that parties held relatively quiet meetings and avoided hard politics.
Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) did hold its scheduled rally with the usual paraphernalia that was in place before the EC’s ban came on Saturday evening. But its leader and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal avoided hard politics beyond typically comparing the situation to the Emergency of the 1970s, and blaming the Congress-led UPA’s central government for the EC ban that had “curbed religious freedom”.
The ban had come after a complaint by Ravneet Singh Bittu, the Congress’s sitting MP and the candidate from Anandpur Sahib. Congress had already cancelled its rally, while leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) interacted with the people without any loudspeaker, and the SAD (Amritsar) also kept it light as its leader Simranjit Singh Mann staying away.
Top leaders of the SAD who reached the conference venue were sulking, for having missed the opportunity to reach out to a “readymade audience” at the festival.
Except for CM Badal, all other top leaders — SAD president and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Avtar Singh Makkar Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee president Manjit Singh GK, and BJP leader and industries minister Madan Mohan Mittal, besides SAD general secretary and Anandpur Sahib candidate Prem Singh Chandumajra — preferred not to deliver any speeches.
It needs mention here that in the past when the Hola Mohalla preceded polls, the SAD and other parties used the event to launch their campaign. “I have been attending Holla Mohalla for many years but such orders have been given for the first time,” CM Badal told HT before his address.
Addressing the gathering, Badal said, “It (EC orders) has caused much pain, and has hurt Sikh sentiments, as religious rights have been curbed.” Concluding his speech, he asked everyone to take part in the prayers.
Justifying his stand, he added that “politics and religion go hand in hand in Sikhism”. “There is no village in Punjab that doesn’t have a gurdwara or a mandir. The Election Commission is working on the directions of the UPA government,” he said, and compared the situation with the days of Emergency “when the rights to write and speak were curbed”. However, seeking to temper his attack, Badal said that as the CM he was bound to follow the law and would not go against the EC’s order.
“It was a day full of religious fervour, but orders of the EC that we received at 9.30am today (Sunday) caused tremendous hurt to all of us,” Badal told the media after his address.