Varanasi saint rues parties not raising garland theft issue

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Varanasi, May 4: Top contenders like Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal may have invoked Ganga to woo devouts but an influential religious leader has rued that none of them has bothered to raise the issue of the 600-year-old sandalwood garland which was stolen last year from birthplace of Kabir.

Sant Vivek Das Acharya, the chief of Kabir Chaura Mutt Trust, said that the theft of the antique sandalwood beads garland was an emotional issue for a large number of devotees of Kabir- the 15th century saint from Varanasi- but no prominent candidate has talked about it so far.

The garland, said to be gifted to Kabir by his guru Swami Ramanandacharya, was stolen from Kabir Mutt in December last year allegedly by a Thai person.

Acharya said he had even taken up the issue with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. "No candidate, including Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, has raised the issue, which is very unfortunate. It is an emotional issue for the city," Acharya told PTI.

Kabir Chaura Mutt is considered the most sacred place by Kabir Panthis as devotees from across the globe come here.

He says though Modi has invoked "Ganga-Yamuna tehzeeb" to galvanise support, he has never mentioned either Kabir or the theft of the sandalwood garland.

"It is a major issue for us. The garland has symbolic importance. We had raised it with Salman Khurshid and he had taken it up seriously. We are hopeful that the garland would be traced and brought back here," the head of Kabir Chaura Mutt said.

A devotee at the Mutt said he was disappointed as no prominent candidate had raised the issue of the stolen garland. "It has a lot of significance. We hope the issue will be raised by the candidates in the coming days," he said.

The campaigning for the May 12 elections in Varanasi has picked up momentum. In an effort to woo the voters, both Kejriwal and Modi have talked about a number of local issues like ridding the Ganga of pollution, improving the infrastructure of the city and helping the weavers' community.

Modi has also promised to make Varanasi the global spiritual capital. Congress candidate Ajay Rai has also raised various local issues. BJP has been running an aggressive campaign to garner support for Modi while AAP has been trying to replicate the "successful Delhi campaign model" here by holding scores of roadshows and corner meetings across Varanasi.

Hundreds of AAP volunteers are also making door-to-door visits to seek support from people in this holy city.

In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had won the seat after defeating Mukhtar Ansari, who is currently in jail in a murder case, by a margin of 17,000 votes.

Quami Ekta Dal's Ansari, known to have a strong support base among Muslims, has decided not to contest against Modi from the seat "to avoid division of secular votes".

Also in the fray is Samajwadi Party's Kailash Chaurasiya, who is the sitting MLA from nearby Mirzapur.


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