For the first time in over several decades there will be no political conferences at the historic Maghi Mela, which kicks off on Thursday. The Mela is celebrated in the memory of 40 Sikh warriors who in 1705 fought the Mughals in the battle Khidrana, which was named Muktsar after the battle.
Over the years, political conferences had become the main attraction in this Mela. The conferences which used to be organised at different locations in the Mela even used to set the political tone of the state. Though AAP and Congress had stopped organising political conferences since 2018 itself, it will be the first year for SAD (Badal) and SAD (Amritsar) will also not be organising any political rally due to farmers’ protests.
Maghi Mela is held in the holy city of Muktsar every year in January or in the month of Magh according to the Nanakshahi calendar. It is one of the most important Mela for Sikhs. According to SAD MLA from Muktsar, Rozy Barkandi, if we go by history, martyrdom day of 40 Muktas happened in the month of ‘Vaisakh’, which happens to fall in the first week of May.
He added: “About 100 years back when there used to be scarcity of water in this region, Mela started being organised on Sankrant of Magh month and hence was known as Maghi Mela. This tradition has since continued. No doubt we pay respects to the martyrs in Maghi Mela but gurdwaras do organise programs in May as well.”
Mela starts on Maghi day and continues for another day. People from different parts of the state and even outside the state come to Muktsar to take a holy dip in the sarovar of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib of Muktsar.
Since mid-1950s, political conferences also started here and unlike present days political conferences, where political parties do a show of strength, earlier people would come to the Mela to roam around during the day and attend cultural events in the evening. Earlier, there would be kavi darbars where in between politicians would speak.
“People used to sleep inside that tent only, gathering used to be limited at that time. The next day — Maghi day, a main political leader of a particular political party used to speak and hence, those conferences used to culminate, but over the years, people started organising conferences during day time only as overnight stay and continuing conference for another day seemed difficult,” recalled Congress leader Gurmeet Singh Khudian who hails from Muktsar. He added, “People used to display their agricultural equipment for about 10 days and roadside attractions used to continue for about a month. Relatives used to live in each other’s houses for a month during those days.”
Gurdas Girdhar, another Muktsar based Congress leader, said,”During terrorism days as well, political conferences used to be organised barring the election year when code of conduct was implemented.”
In 2017, Akal Takht Jathedar had asked political parties not to organise political conferences during the religious Melas, following which all parties had stopped organising conferences at Shaheedi Jor Mela in Sirhind since 2017 while Congress and AAP had stopped organising conferences at Maghi Mela as well since January 2018. SAD, however, continued organising with a plea that Akal Takht Jathedar had appealed only for Shaheedi Jor mela while sacrifice of 40 Sikh warriors had actually happened in May and Mela was organised in January.
Shiromani Akal Dal had even stated that political conferences at Maghi Mela used to be organised much before 1920 — when SAD had not even come into existence. However, this year SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal stated,”As most of our workers, constituency incharges are in Delhi protesting at the borders as it is a public’s movement, hence we will not be organising any political conference this year. We are with farmers in this biggest public movement which is against the black laws of centre government.”
However, SAD had organised a function on Tuesday in Bhai Maha Singh Hall in which they paid tributes to all those farmers of Muktsar district who had died during farmers’ protests either in Punjab or at Delhi borders.
D Sudharvizhi, SSP, Muktsar said, “This year we have deployed 3,900 cops against around 4,600 in previous year as there are no political conferences. We have divided the city area into seven sectors and each sector will be having a sub-police station to cater to the public. There are 17 parking sites where vehicles can be parked so that the road near gurdwara can be free from congestion.
Nihang Singhs with their horses have already started arriving in Muktsar. People also display various varieties of cattle in this Mela so as to attract customers. This year abiding by Covid guidelines is also a must, said SSP Muktsar. A site for swings has also been allocated by district administration which is normally given on lease every year. Over the years, political conferences had started overpowering the Mela as a large number of people used to come only to conferences in buses hired by political parties. This year, that traffic will be less.
Before 2017, Maghi Mela used to set political tone of the state as it used to be a show of strength for most parties. A year before the election used to be the most important for this political conference. In Punjab, AAP had also organised their biggest political conference at Maghi Mela in 2016 when Arvind Kejriwal had come wearing a turban as well. This was a year before the 2017 polls.
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