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Dharna outside CM's house: Congress more aggressive than ever in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 16 October 2016, 17:20 IST

The Congress is showing an unprecedented level of aggression in Punjab, with state party chief Captain Amarinder Singh leading the way.

From storming into police stations to holding overnight dharnas and issuing threats to the police and the administration to stop dancing to the tunes of the ruling Akali-BJP alliance, the Congress has done it all over the last one month.

Till a few months ago, the Congress leadership was facing criticism for going soft with its campaign. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was said to be gaining the upper hand by organising aggressive protests and campaigns at the grass-root level, while the Congress was busy setting its own house in order, appeasing its heavyweights and ticket aspirants.

But then, there was a storm in the AAP ranks following the departure of its state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur, along with revolts over the distribution of tickets. Then, the SAD-BJP government decided to vacate border villages, following surgical strikes by Indian forces across the Line of Control (LoC).

Both these factors gave the Congress an opportunity to display its own brand of aggressive politics, which it has been known for in Punjab. For that matter, aggression has always jelled with the psyche of the Punjabi electorate, which wants to see action on the ground instead of meek promises.

Protest at CM's residence

The latest in the series is a dharna by Congress legislators, under Leader of the Opposition Charanjit Singh Channi, outside the residence of his neighbour and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

For two nights, Congress legislators sat on the dharna, demanding action against top police officers in Ludhiana for allegedly siding with the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) workers in a tiff over burning a 'Chitta' Ravan on Dussehra.

'Chitta' is one of the most popular synthetic drugs consumed by addicts across Punjab, and the Akalis are offended by its very name, as they have been targeted by the Opposition for the rampant drug abuse in the state.

Congress workers, led by local MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, were not only beaten up, but cases were also registered against them. This led to the Congress's demand for the transfer of Police Commissioner Jatinder Aulakh, and the suspension of Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Jaswinder Singh, besides the withdrawal of cases against the Congress workers.

Amarinder himself joined the protesters, giving them a further fillip. In a fiery speech, he said: "Is it your (Akali) guilty conscience that gets pricked and causes you to get goose bumps over the very mention of 'Chitta'? By resorting to violence against burning of the 'Chitta' Ravan, the Akalis have actually admitted to their guilt of being synonymous with 'Chitta'."

He questioned why there was no action when effigies of Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal were burnt in Amritsar on Dussehra.

"Today, people are only burning your effigies, tomorrow they will actually be after your life. People will not even wait for the elections; they are simply waiting for the model code of conduct to be enforced before they start venting their anger against the Badals," he said.

Amarinder said Congressmen will be asked to burn effigies of the 'Chitta' Ravan in all the Assembly segments across the state.

Taking on police officers

The protest outside Badal's home is symbolic of the political offensive being taken to new levels. Common people are not allowed to protest in the VIP area where both Badal and Channi reside, and here we have legislators spending nights out on the road.

Badal came out twice to address the Congress leaders, but they did not relent, as their demands were not met.

On the ground, too, the Congress has taken the offensive to another level. Its workers pasted stickers on the walls of police stations, with 'Proud to be Akali' written on them. They even duped a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Ajayraj Singh, into accepting an honour, which turned out to be a shawl with 'Proud to be Akali' written on it, thus leaving the official red-faced.

Police officials have called these 'irresponsible' acts designed to defame the police and disrespect police officers.

Prior to this, during his visit to the border areas, Amarinder had stormed into a local police station at Kotli Surah Malhi in Gurdaspur, and served an ultimatum to an official to stop the persecution of Congress workers.

"Let me warn all such police officials that I will use the special powers vested in the government under Article 311 to dismiss all of them in case they do not mend their ways," he said, while promising stringent action against police officials once the Congress came to power.

Sometime back, Amarinder had stormed into a police station during his 'Halke vich Captain' programme, when an old man complained of being framed in a police case.

SAD's response

Amarinder's macho acts have drawn the ire of the ruling Akalis. Akali leaders have condemned him for his effigies comment, saying it amounted to provoking the people to physically harm the SAD leadership.

SAD secretary Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema said no one imagined that Congress chief will think so low about his political rivals. "This is a criminal act which cannot be approved by any right thinking individual in the state and the country," he said.

He further charged that the Congress was trying to create a law and order problem in the state by physically attacking political opponents, as well as attacking and insulting law enforcement agencies, in order to demoralise the state force.

He said when the Chief Minister himself had respectfully given a patient hearing to the agitating Congress leaders and even ordered a probe at the highest level, to be conducted by the DGP in a limited time frame, it was the duty of the Congress to wait patiently. "But since their motto is to create disturbances in the state, they have chosen a of path unwarranted confrontation and even threatening the senior SAD leadership," he said.

The Akalis have said that Amarinder storming police stations shows that his frustration is at its peak due to a lackluster response to his campaign by the people."If he had any genuine grievance against any SHO, he should have brought it to the notice of the DGP. But the way Amarinder has behaved, it amounts to intimidating the junior police officer just to please his political aides," Cheema said.

He said the Congress leadership must understand that instead of trying to threaten the law-enforcement officers or the bureaucracy, it is a must to win the confidence of the people to survive politically.

Boost for Cong workers

On the other hand, Congress workers say that the aggressive politicking by their leaders has infused life in the cadres at the grass-root level, who were otherwise getting frustrated by the daily reports of infighting in the party. A recent television channel placing Congress slightly ahead of AAP in its survey has also led to an increase in their confidence.

Veteran political observer Jagtar Singh pointed out: "Although the Congress has been on the rise of late by default, this indefinite dharna at the gate of the CM's residence has taken the fight to an entirely new level. It is no more a fight against 'Chitta'. It is the race for entering that residence. AAP's loss is the Congress's gain."

When one player gets aggressive, others can't lie low. That is the basic rule in a game where the stakes are very high.

Punjab can soon expect aggressive politics from other parties. What the format will be, remains to be seen.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 16 October 2016, 17:20 IST