The historic Shaheedi Jor Mela at Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab turned out to be the venue for the key political players in Punjab to show their strength just a few weeks ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls in the state.
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress and the new force on the horizon the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took on each other while airing what they stand for in the present political milieu in the state.
The Jor Mela is held every year at Fatehgarh Sahib to pay homage to the martyrdom of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, the youngest sons of the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh.
Keeping in mind the importance of the venue, the parties tried to play up the emotive issues of Operation Bluestar, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the continuing spate of incidents of sacrilege of religious texts in the state.
This was perhaps the last occasion available to the parties to come up with a show a strength before the model code of conduct comes into force and they made the best of it.
The ruling Akali Dal was seen going on an offensive against its opposition parties while promising that the SAD-BJP combine is the best bet for the people of Punjab.
Both the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal chose to play up Operation Bluestar and the subsequent anti-Sikh riots of 1984 to target the Congress.
It was mainly left to Sukhbir to launch an attack on both the Congress and the AAP leaderships while claiming that it will be the Punjabis represented by the combine that will retain power for the next two decades.
Attacking the Congress leadership for following the diktats from its high command in Delhi, Sukhbir said, "The Congressmen in Punjab can stab their own community in the back at the behest of their party high command. We should not allow them to even enter Punjab."
Taking pot shots at the Congress for hiring poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Sukhbir made fun of the various campaigns that he has designed for the party president Captain Amarinder Singh, "He started 'Coffee with Captain' not knowing that Punjabis prefer lassi and the campaign should have been 'Lassi with Captain'. When he will launch the campaign 'Jail vich Captain', there will not be a single Congressman by Amarinder's side. This is the difference. When Badal Sahib gives a call there are lakhs of people willing to stand by him."
Other targets & promises
He also attacked AAP calling it a party of 'Topiwalas'. His target was Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann whom AAP has announced as its candidate from Sukhbir's seat of Jalalabad.
He raised the issue of Bhagwant's consumption of alcohol alleging that he has no regard for Sikh religion as he goes in an inebriated state to religious places. "A party that does not respect Sikhism has no place in Punjab," he charged.
Drawing up a list of achievements of the ten-year Akali rule, Sukhbir promised proper roads, solar power and sewerage system in the 12,000 villages of Punjab over the next five years. He recounted that whether it be good roads, airports or schools, the developments have taken place only when Badal has been the chief minister. He also promised to set up one skill centre for every five villages.
Badal senior in his address recounted the struggle of Akali leadership during the emergency and underlined how the successive Congress regimes in Punjab have discriminated against Punjab on various fronts - be it economic or constituting states on linguistic basis.
For the Congress, it was Amarinder playing up the issue of frequent cases of sacrilege of holy books that have been reported in the state for the last one and a half years. He vowed to put behind bars all those found guilty of religious sacrilege and other crimes against the people.
Citing incidents of burning and tearing of the holy texts, such as Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagavad Gita, Quran etc, and the sacrilege and police firing in Bargari last year, Amarinder said these underlined the state of lawlessness and communal polarisation into which Punjab has been plunged during the Badal regime.
Asking the people to vote for the Congress to save the state from the Badals and their minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who are only interested in promoting their own interests and filling their pockets, he questioned the source of Badals' money for personal projects and businesses.
Accusing Majithia of selling drugs, Amarinder said he and the Badals had ruined an entire generation of youth and the problem is so widespread that in his former Lok Sabha constituency of Amritsar there are many villages without a single surviving male member as all have fallen victim to 'Chitta' (a popular synthetic drug).
Amarinder also attacked the Badals over the 300-odd political appointments made in the past few days in violation of all norms, in a bid to place their own people in plum positions ahead of the imposition of the code of conduct by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
To counter the allegations against him, Amarinder asserted that not a single public subsidy would be withdrawn by his government after coming to power. The next Congress government would not only continue to give free power to the farm sector but will also reduce the power tariff for the industrial and commercial consumers, he announced.
Pointing to the series of farmer suicides and the industrial collapse in the state, Amarinder reiterated that he would waive off all debts of the farmers and ensure the revival of industries.
On the bandwagon
The AAP leadership too took on its opponents on the same emotive issues of sacrilege of religious texts and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
In his address, senior AAP leader HS Phoolka pointed out how the anti-socials affiliated to the Congress had unleashed violence against the minority Sikh community not only in Delhi but at other places as well.
"It was not a fight between Hindus and Sikhs. It was the Congress goondas who had targeted the Sikhs at that time," he said while going into detail of his fight on behalf of the community in the legal sphere.
Phoolka pointed out that had the perpetrators of the 1984 violence been punished, India would not have seen the communal riots of 1992 after the Babri Mosque demolition or the Godhra riots of 2002.
President of the youth wing of AAP Harjot Bains particularly played up the issue of the state government's failure to arrest those who have been behind the incident of sacrilege of holy texts.
He pointed that one-and-a-half year down the line, the government has not only failed to check such incidents and arrest those responsible for them but the instances of religious violence has been spiralling out of control. This points at the total failure of the government on the law and order front, he added.
Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann was another key speaker for AAP. He went on to promise a government for the 'aam aadmi' once his party is in power. He said the government would not allow the VIP culture that the Akalis and the Congress have come to be associated with and which now thrives in the state.
The AAP leaders played up the failure of the Badal government for pushing the state into a debt trap of Rs 2 lakh crore while pointing out how the Badals have placed their personal interests before those of the state. They said that all sections of the society are now yearning for a change.