Competing to get the biggest crowd to Thursday’s Maghi Mela conferences, the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have each moved to a bigger venue.
The Tuesday-night showers slowed down the preparations, but only briefly. From its regular venue — Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee’s 4 acres near the bus stand on the Malout road here — the SAD has moved about 5 kilometres to a 70-acre site near Rupana village. “About 20 acres (equal to 11 international-size football fields) of it is reserved for the pandal (crowd space),” claimed a volunteer on the site.
The venue was under a heavy police protection on Wednesday, and the open pandal was still being carpeted. “We’ll draw the biggest crowd, as we have full public support. The chief minister and the deputy CM will address the gathering. The latter will get here in a cavalcade from Badal village,” said SAD district president Dyal Singh Kolianwali, who was supervising the work. Asked if any central leader of alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was expected, he said it was a state-level rally and state BJP leaders were sure to attend it. Asked if the site was on lease, Kolianwali said “it is donated”. The land was prepared by destroying the wheat crop over it.
Cong moves from 7 to 60 acres
The Congress, too, has covered more land from last year, after moving from its old 7-acre site near Rajpal Cinema on the Malout road to the Kotkpaura bypass, where it has 16 acres under the pandal and another 40 acres for parking. “We have about 60 acres for conference and parking. The land belongs to party workers and a close aide of local legislator Karan Brar. We paid no rent for it,” said Congress block president Bhinder Sharma.
Since the Congress also has an open pandal laid on wheat fields, its carpets have got wet in the rain. “State party president Captain Amarinder Singh will reach Muktsar today (on Wenesday) and, after praying at Darbar Sahib, will visit the conference site,” said Bhinder.
Size doesn’t matter: AAP
The AAP also moved to a bigger venue, yet it claimed not to have size on its mind. ”We have 12.5 acres for the pandal and 13 acres for parking. Unlike other parties, the venue size does not matter to us. We’d rather be big in performance. We have a simple stage with no chairs and own volunteers to manage most of the security. Police will only secure the gates, where they will have metal detectors,” said preparation supervisor Jasvir Singh Jassi Sekhon, adding: “Unlike others, we have paid rent for the site and hired no vehicle to carry our workers to the site.”
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is scheduled to reach the venue from Bathinda. The AAP conference will be on the Bathinda road, about a kilometre from the local bus stand.