AAP vs Congress vs Akali: Chhapar Mela is Punjab's new political battleground
At the annual Chapaar Mela held near Ludhiana on 16 September in memory of folk deity Gugga Pir, the key political players of Punjab turned the stage into a battlefield.
AAP's litmus test
The event was seen as a litmus test for AAP in particular because of the upheavals the party has witnessed over the last two months.
But AAP managed to convey that despite the internal rumblings, it retains its popularity among the masses who are looking for a third alternative in the state after being disillusioned with the rule of Akalis and the Congress over the last seven decades.
The party had come up with very impressive shows at Maghi Mela and later on Baisakhi Mela at Talwandi Sabo where political parties mark their presence with rallies.
But questions were still raised about its popularity ever since the sacking of its state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur and the infighting resulting over distribution of tickets.
The presence of HS Phoolka at the event laid to rest the speculations about his being annoyed with the party leadership and not turning up at the key party events. Phoolka explained that the cases he has been fighting to get justice for the victims of 1984 anti Sikh riots keep him busy and at times he has to give party programmes a miss.
But even though Phoolka was present, it was Bhagwant Mann who was absent this time. The Sangrur MP has reportedly not made a public appearance since 12 September 12 and speculation is rife about why.
AAP activists entered the venue in style on scooters and bikes to start their rally. In his address, state in-charge Sanjay Singh cleared the air about the party's chief ministerial candidate saying that a Punjabi would head the government formed by AAP.
He also claimed that the party would win more than 100 of the 117 assembly seats in the state.
On his part, Phoolka, who is the party candidate from Dakha under which Chapaar falls, attacked Badal for his claims about being the saviour of the Sikh religion. He said Badal had done nothing for the victims of Operation Blue Star or the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
Punjab co-in charge Jarnail singh took the issue further accusing Badals of exploiting religious sentiment of the people for political gains and damaging sanctity of religious institutions.
An aggressive Congress
The Congress show, led by Punjab president Captain Amarinder Singh, saw him launch a vicious attack on Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and AAP's new state convener Gurpreet Ghuggi.
Those present said that besides raising the usual issues, Amarinder also chose to play up Panthic issues. He attacked Ghuggi for his reported comments that AAP leaders from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh working in Punjab are like Panj Pyaras while also pointing that even Guru Gobind Singh had also come to Punjab from outside.
He took on Badal, accusing him of playing divisive politics and creating tension among communities. He said Badal and the Akalis had indulged in such politics when the state was in the grip of militancy. He raised the issue of the series of desecration of holy books in Punjab last year and asked why the government has failed to bring the culprits to book.
Amarinder has been constantly accusing Badal of encouraging a controlled instability in the state. He has been attacking the Akalis for the spate of religious violence that has rocked Punjab over the last few months.
Of late, Amarinder's aggressive posturing has been drawing dividend for the Congress as it plays up to the Punjabi psyche that likes aggression and macho talk. Those present at the spot said Congress supporters outnumbered the Akali and AAP camps.
The Akali camp
For the Akalis, it was their grand old man Badal who did some hard talk on both the Congress as well as AAP. Slamming them for their anti-Punjab stance, Badal said that even the shadow of these parties is bad for the state as they don't have any sympathy for the people and are hostile to the interests of Punjab.
Pointing that the upcoming polls would make or mar the future of state, he said that if a pro-people force like SAD-BJP alliance is voted to power again, then the state's development would get a major fillip.
"But if anti-Punjab forces like Congress and AAP get a chance then the situation would be worse than anyone's imagination," he said.
Attacking the Congress, Badal said that it has irrelevantly meddled in the social, political, economic and even religious affairs of the state while the Congress governments at the Centre deliberately denied the state Punjabi speaking areas, its capital Chandigarh and even its legitimate share in river waters. Badal said that no sincere Punjabi could ever forgive the Congress for sins like Operation Blue Star and the killing of innocents in 1984 anti-Sikh carnage.
He also raked up the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue, saying that the canal is aimed at ruining the state by snatching its only available natural resource. He took on AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal on the issue for his government's stand on the SYL and said that because Kejriwal hails from Haryana he is naturally inclined towards his native state.
He went on to say that the AAP leadership believes in politics of confrontation; that an AAP government in Punjab would be constantly at loggerheads with the Centre and this would be bad for the state.
Calling AAP a 'house of cards' that is likely to collapse before the polls, he said the AAP leadership neither has any character nor any ideology and their sole motive is to capture power by hook or crook for plundering the state. He said the strings of this party are being managed by non-Punjabis resorting to "use and throw" policy towards the local leaders.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu