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Barrage of rallies in Punjab much before arrival of elections

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Chandigarh: It may not be election time in Punjab, but the state is witnessing a spate of political rallies as major parties in the state are already in a poll mode.

The lead has been taken by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which announced ‘Sadbhawna rallies’ in Bathinda, Moga, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib and a ‘mega rally’ in Patiala.

The Akali Dal’s alliance partner, BJP, which was exploring options to go solo in the next assembly polls in the state, has done a re-think after the recent Bihar poll results and has joined the Akali Dal in the rallies.

The Akali Dal was forced to hold the rallies to avoid eroding its traditional vote bank of farmers and people in rural areas after recent incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib led to protests and violence and radical Sikh elements and organizations were able to cash in on the situation and blame the Parkash Singh Badal government for not restoring order.

The opposition Congress, which had been grappling with its internal power struggle and factionalism in the past one year, is also setting itself for a course correction with former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh being finally made the state unit president.

The big showdown between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress is slated for December 15 when the Congress organises its first big rally in Bathinda town where Amarinder Singh will formally take over as the state Congress president.

Akali Dal president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced that the party will hold its biggest rally on the same day in front of the Moti Bagh Palace of Amarinder Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Patiala).

The Congress chose Bathinda for Amarinder’s coronation after Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal recently challenged its leadership to hold a rally at the same ground where the Akali Dal organised its first ‘Sadbhawna rally’ on Nov 23.

Bathinda is the Lok Sabha constituency of Sukhbir Badal’s wife, union minister Harsimrat Badal.

“We will hold a big, historic rally in Bathinda which will be attended by all Congress leaders. People will join the rally on their own, unlike the Akalis who misused government machinery for their rally,” Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said.

After the Bathinda rally, the Congress is likely to plan more rallies in coming days.

Not the one to be left behind, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has four Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab, is making its presence felt with its own series of meetings across the state. The AAP has announced that its leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will camp in Punjab some time next year to strengthen the party’s base.

The AAP is preparing itself to be the third major force in the state. The party knows that it has a substantial vote bank of people who are disenchanted with the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress.

Elections to Punjab’s 117-member assembly will be held in Feb-March 2017.

(Jaideep Sarin, IANS)

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‘Concept of equality’ pervades world’s biggest community kitchen

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually

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Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous place of worship of Sikhs in Delhi. Wikimedia Commons
Equality is important for the biggest community. Wikimedia Commons

If there is one big leveller for people, irrespective of their religion, caste, gender, social status or riches, it is the “langar”, or community kitchen, at the Golden Temple complex, where the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Harmandir Sahib, is located, in this city considered holy by Sikhs.

Referred to as the world’s largest community kitchen, the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee Langar Hall of the Golden Temple complex is unique in several aspects. On an average, it feeds over 100,000 people daily — from children to old people — from all religions, castes, regions, countries; and people from varied social, economic and political backgrounds.

“It is a 24×7 operation that carries on day and night all 365 days of the year. This has been going on for centuries, since the concept of langar was introduced by Guru Nanak Dev (the first Guru of the Sikh religion and its founder; born 1469) and propagated by other Gurus,” Wazir Singh, senior in-charge of the langar preparation, told IANS here.

Unlike other government organisations and institutions in India, there are no provisions for reservations based on caste or religion. Wikimedia commons
The Golden Temple complex provides food for many. Wikimedia Commons

At any given point of the day or night, the place is not only swarmed by devotees wanting to partake what is considered as blessed by service but by hundreds of volunteers who are ever-so-ready to be part of the voluntary cooking and serving process. The langar food is even sent thrice daily to the two Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)-run hospitals in Amritsar, especially to a ward where treatment of mentally-ill patients and drug-addicts is being carried out. The SGPC is tasked with the management all Sikh shrines.

“We have over 500 volunteer employees. The sangat (community) also pitches in with great enthusiasm daily. People come from across Punjab on trucks and tractor-trolleys — even other states, different countries — to help in this massive exercise of making and serving food. Several local residents, including women, have been coming here for years. People take time out of their government and private jobs to serve here, irrespective of their religion or caste. We welcome everyone with love,” Wazir Singh, speaking in Punjabi, pointed out, even as he continued to issue instructions to staffers involved in cooking the langar.

The langar is all vegetarian — comprising mainly of dal (maa-chole ki dal), rice (slightly salted for taste), chapattis, achar (pickle) and a vegetable, along with something sweet (kheer or prasad). In the morning, the “chai langar” comprises of tea and rusk.

The devotees sit down on the matted floor inside the langar hall in rows. To manage the huge rush, the SGPC volunteers allow only a few hundred to enter the hall at one time. The whole operation is carried out in a meticulous manner as a daily routine.

Also Read: ‘Government chalked out 1984 anti-Sikh genocide’

“The whole exercise is quite enormous but it goes on, with the blessings of the almighty, seamlessly. The daily expense is around Rs 15 lakh. We use 100 quintals (100 kg) rice and up to 30 kg (each) of dal and vegetables daily. Over 100 LPG cylinders (domestic size) are used daily for the cooking along with hundreds of kilograms of firewood for the traditional cooking. Nearly 250 kg of ‘desi ghee’ (clarified butter) is used in the cooking. We have over three lakh steel plates. We can serve 10 lakh (one million) people in a day,” Gurpreet Singh, in-charge of the kitchen, told IANS. SGPC functionaries pointed out that 30,000-35,000 people from Amritsar and nearby areas are daily visitors to the shrine and partake langar thrice. Many of these are migrants from other states and poor people who cannot afford meals.

“Our doors are open for everyone without discrimination. We follow the concept of equality here,” said Amrit Pal Singh, a SGPC official at the Information Office. The chapattis, in the thousands, are made on eight chapatti-making machines and even by hand by women and men volunteers. The steel utensils (plates, glasses and spoons), used by devotees, also numbering in lakhs, are washed voluntarily by the devotees themselves or by volunteers.

“The shrine complex has such a spiritual attraction about it. The langar served here leaves you satisfied in many aspects. The whole experience touches your soul,” Ramesh Goyal, a devotee from Bathinda, said.

“I had always heard about this shrine. Today, what I experienced was heavenly. The langar service is unparalleled in any religion. They do it with so much devotion and humility despite such huge crowds. It is unimaginable,” Tariq Ahmed, who had come here with his family from Patna in Bihar, told IANS. Anup Singh, a young Sikh devotee from Amritsar, often accompanies his grandparents and parents to the shrine.

Sikh Community, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh
Children belonging to Sikh Community, Wikimedia Commons 

“I love to serve chapattis to the people having langar. It is a very satisfying and fulfilling experience,” he said. “The whole exercise is carried out selflessly. It is a big task but everything is carried out smoothly. We keep introducing changes depending on the needs of the devotees,” Roop Singh, Chief Secretary of the SGPC, told IANS.

The SGPC, known as the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, manages the Golden Temple complex and gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. It has an annual budget of over Rs 1,100 crore, mostly from donations at the gurdwaras.

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually. The strong Sikh diaspora in other countries like United States, Britain and Canada actively contributes to the shrine and visits it whenever they can. IANS