Parties jostle for Chhath Puja bragging rights in Delhi as Purvanchali migrants gain political significance

Given how the Chhath Puja has become an intrinsic part of Delhi's political landscape, parties have enthusiastically plunged into action mode to ensure the four-day celebration, which hits its peak on Friday, is a grand success.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party is the frontrunner here, organising a slew of events to mark the occasion. On its website, the AAP also spoke of measures taken by the Delhi government to ensure comfort and convenience of devotees. "MLAs, SDMs, AES and JES of concerned departments will inspect the preparedness of Chhath Puja ghats on 25 and 26 October," read a notice on the Delhi government website.

The website also said that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other Delhi government ministers would inspect puja ghats on 27 October.

Furthermore, the state government had declared a public holiday for Chhath Puja on Thursday, and all educational institutes and government offices remained shut.

Parties jostle for Chhath Puja bragging rights in Delhi as Purvanchali migrants gain political significance

Representational image. Reuters

Not to be outdone, the Delhi BJP provided strong competition to the AAP, proving its sincerity to the occasion by offering voluntary labour service to facilitate celebrations. A press release issued by the Delhi BJP quoted state party president Manoj Tiwari as saying BJP workers will offer voluntary labour at the ghats, and will help muncipal corporation employees by cleaning up after the celebrations are done.

The website of the Delhi BJP also said that responsibilities of the workers have been fixed for this purpose. The workers also volunteered towards the construction of a Chhath Ghat at second Pushta of Yamuna near Sonia Vihar, the Delhi BJP said.

Devotees who come to offer their prayers at the ghats are more than happy with the love and care they receive from all the parties. Anand Vihar resident Uma Kant Singh expressed his pleasure, saying, "We have been provided with subsidised food at the Anand Vihar railway station. It has come as a relief for the devotees who needed to break their fast after long hours of Puja."

To make things easier for the devotees, the Delhi government has also constructed a number of ghats. "Minister of development and labour, Gopal Rai, said that the Delhi government has developed 565 Chhath Puja ghats in different localities of Delhi, including 50 pucca ghats and the rest semi-pucca ghats. These will make it easy for people to perform puja," mentioned the Aam Aadmi Party website.

Ashish Rai, a member of the Chhath Puja committee in Delhi, told Firstpost that all expenditures regarding the cleaning of the ghats are borne by the government.

Even the Anand Vihar railway station has been decorated and cleaned to welcome piligrims. "Normally there are three entrance gates to the railway station, but due to Chhath Puja, there are now six entrances. It has also been cleaned thoroughly," said Rajesh Sharma, a resident of Anand Vihar.

Over 550 policemen have been deployed to provide security and ensure the safety of devotees.

The Hindu festival of Chhath Puja requires devotees to fast, bathe with holy water, offer prayers to the rising and setting sun, and abstain from drinking water for long hours. In Delhi, the festival is marked mainly by the Purvanchali migrant population, who had moved to the national capital from parts of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The craze among parties to celebrate Chhath Puja emerged after the Purvanchali migrants gained control over Delhi's electoral politics. Till the 90s, in fact, there wasn't any initiative from the government towards Chhath Puja.

Things changed in the 2000s, when awareness among the political class about the event, along with a swelling of numbers of the Purvanchali votebank, meant the event was on the calendar again.

Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying, "People from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh make up one-third of Delhi's population." Considering Delhi's population as per the 2011 census was 1.68 crore, it means nearly 56 lakh residents of the capital are from this region. With such a large population bank, the Purvanchalis enjoy considerable political clout.

As per an article published in Governance Now, almost 80 municipal wards covering 20 Assembly constituencies are dominated by Purvanchalis, comprising 17 to 47 percent of voters. In the 2013 Assembly polls, BJP won 14 out of these 20 seats, while AAP bagged six. The article also said that the AAP has over a dozen MLAs of Purvanchali origin.

BJP's decision of appointing Bhojpuri singer and actor Manoj Tiwari as state president is also seen as being dictated by the need to woo Purvanchali voters.

Little wonder that the Chhath Puja, among the most important festivals for the Purvanchali population, has Delhi's political parties jostling with each other. The residents are ultimately quite happy with the way things are. Uttam Nagar resident Pushpender Soni expressed his satisfaction over the rising importance of Chhath Puja among political parties. "Whatever be the reason of its growing importance, it has made the celebration convenient for many and that is commendable," he said.

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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 11:12:03 IST

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