While the Supreme Court has banned the use of religion, caste, race, community and language to seek votes during elections, the Election Commission has allowed the use of Dhadi Jathas, those who sing Sikh folk lores, in the election rallies and even fixed a rate for it.
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Dhadhi Jathas are much cheaper compared to Punjabi singers, which are the most expensive item on the list. There are 142 items of election expenditure in the EC’s rate list for the Punjab Assembly polls. A candidate can spend up to Rs 28 lakh in Assembly elections.
A Dhadi Jatha per programme would cost Rs 3,100 to a candidate while a local singer’s programme would cost Rs 20,000 to Rs 35,000. One performance by a renowned singer would cost a candidate above Rs 150,000.
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) traditionally uses Dhadi Jathas in its rallies to hold the crowd before the arrival of main leaders on the stage.
Shiri Guru Hargobind Sahib Shiromani Dhadhi Sabha president and former SGPC member Baldev Singh says, “Initially, this art form was popular in Rajsthan where artists would sing the praises of kings. But Sixth Guru of Sikhs Hargobind Singh Sahib made some changes and developed this art among Sikhs to sing the praise of the almighty. Then, it was used to sing the stories of Sikh heroes. It has been same over three centuries and now it is pure Sikh art in Punjab.”
“SAD factions used to invite us, but Congress rarely invites Dhadis as they like to depend more on female singers to hold the crowd,” he says.
Siropa is another item in the popular Sikh culture to make it into EC’s rate list. Siropa (bob of honour) is the Sikh way to honour someone. It is often used by political parties to honour leaders or welcome new workers or leaders in party. Siropa is also offered when some dignitary visits the Golden Temple. A Siropa, Rs 90 per piece, would cost higher than a garland (Rs 15) to a candidate.
In the list published by the EC, 54 items are related to furniture, tent house, light, sound and other related paraphernalia. At least Rs 2,000 will be charged o to account of a candidate if he installs a stage for a rally.
There are 23 food and drink items in the EC’s rate list. A tea cup would cost Rs 6, coffee cup Rs 10 and one litre of milk Rs 45.