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Kejriwal takes on Majithia in SAD stronghold, Akalis launch counterattack

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 29 July 2016, 22:58 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has gone ballistic in Punjab, taking the battle for the forthcoming Assembly polls right into the stronghold of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). And the issue its leadership has chosen to attack the Akalis with is the one that hurts them the most-the rampant drug menace in Punjab.

The Akalis, too, have responded with a show of strength, led by none other than the person the AAP has been targeting the most - Punjab's revenue minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia.

AAP's top leadership, including national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, state convenor Succha Singh Chhotepur, Punjab in-charge Sanjay Singh and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, took Amritsar by storm. The occasion was Kejriwal and Sanjay's court court appearance in a defamation case that has been filed against them by Majithia.

Both of them were granted bail in the matter, with the next hearing scheduled for 15 October.

Invading the opponents' home turf

Kejriwal's latest visit clearly looked like that of a leader invading his opponents' home turf. It stood in stark contrast to his last visit to the holy city on 18 July, when he had come to put to rest the controversy over AAP leaders hurting Sikh sentiments. It was a low key affair, which was neither a part of a political campaign, nor was it a show of strength.

This time, he came to take the bull by the horns. He dared Majithia to arrest him in the remaining six months of SAD's tenure; failing which, he would arrest the the latter once there was a new (AAP) government in the state.

Kejriwal said to his supporters: "I know that false cases are being slapped against AAP volunteers. If they did not spare me as Chief Minister of Delhi, how can they spare you? We will not bow down under any such pressure and form the government in Punjab in 2017," he thundered.

He raised the issue of the rampant drug menace in the state. "The Akalis have turned Punjab, which used to be a flourishing state, into a hub of drugs to ruin the youth. If anyone dares to raise his voice against this drug network, they slap false cases on him, which is evident from the fact that they've filed a defamation case against me," he said.

Pointing to the hoardings put up by AAP supporters across Punjab, describing Majithia as a 'drug lord', he said this shows that the people of Punjab have made up their mind to oust the Akalis. He added that the people are not afraid of Majithia.

Observers said the decision to put up such posters all across Punjab is a part of a well-crafted strategy by AAP. "The party wants to break the fear that is rampant among the masses, that anyone saying anything against the Akalis would be booked under false cases. This a way to challenge the State - do whatever you want, but voices will continue to be raised," said a senior journalist from the Majha area of the state, which is home to several Akali heavyweights. Even Majithia is popularly known as 'Majhe da Jarnail' (general of Majha).

Majithia's counterattack

The atmosphere in Amritsar was electric. Tensions rose, with both sides displaying their strength.

As AAP supporters escorted their leaders to the local court, SAD members and its youth wing gathered at Ranjit Avenue. There was heavy police deployment in the city, mainly around the court and some key points identified as sensitive.

Akali workers descended upon the city to express solidarity with Majithia for taking Kejriwal to task. Majithia said Kejriwal had admitted to his guilt, by refusing to file an application for a day-to-day hearing.

"From today onwards, the word accused has been prefixed to his name. This is a victory not only for me and my family, but the entire Punjabi community," he said.

Stating that the Delhi CM was finally caught in the web of lies and deceit weaved by him, Majithia said: "It is a matter of aaj bail kal jail for this arrogant leader. He may run, but he cannot escape the noose of justice."

Majithia compared the AAP contingent with Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves from The Arabian Nights, and said the number of AAP legislators involved in criminal cases had already crossed the dozen mark. He said the day is not far when it would cross even 40.

"Kejriwal is heading a team whose members are accused of molestation and exploitation of women and even anti-national activities, as done by its MP Bhagwant Mann by sharing live footage of the security arrangements around Parliament House. He, however, supports all their actions, even as he cries foul when his principal secretary's office is searched because of corruption charges," Majithia said.

Senior Badal's allegations

The protesting SAD members carried hoardings that accused Kejriwal as an enemy of Punjab waters (for his stand on the river water sharing issue), and also insulting the Sikh Gurus through the picture of him dressed as a Nihang, that had appeared on the cover of a prominent national magazine.

The Akalis are also playing up Kejriwal's reported comments on PM Narendra Modi, it's not unfeasible for Modi "to have me eliminated".

Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has said that Kejriwal's remarks are the outcome of political desperation in the face of daily exposure of the criminal role of his party and party men.

"This is politics of stuntmanship at its lowest, and it does not behoove a person holding the CM's office. We are here to perform our fundamental tasks of serving the people, and not to indulge in theatrical tactics and tantrums. We must be serious and responsible in our approach in the discharge of responsibilities given to us by the people," Badal said.

Dalit politics

Kejriwal later visited the Dalit family that had been allegedly beaten up by police personnel some days back in Sukhera Bodla village in Jalalabad constituency. The visit assumes significance in the light of Jalalabad being the constituency of Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, and the AAP playing up the atrocities against Dalits across the country.

"The BJP and SAD are against the Dalits. Dalits are being targeted in Punjab. This is evident from the instances coming to light from everywhere. Sukhbir should compensate the family, suspend the police personnel responsible for the crime and initiate action against them. The false case registered against the family should be withdrawn. If he doesn't do it, we will punish them after coming to power. The family was targeted for opposing drug dealers coming to the locality," Kejriwal said.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 29 July 2016, 22:58 IST