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Now or never? In poll bound Punjab, an aggressive Congress rears its head

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

To create a scene and make a noise at every available opportunity looks to be the new mantra of the Congress in Punjab. The party leadership has realised that to capture the attention of voters in the state, it must take to the streets and aggressively market its programmes to make any headway in the upcoming assembly polls.

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Punjab president Captain Amarinder Singh has approved the plan for this push. A few days ago, he said that the state would witness demonstrations and protests over the next few days - much like their Vidhan Sabha protest this week.

The change of tack

This strategy was first seen in action during two recent rallies. In Gurdaspur, the issue brought to the fore was the delay in payment of arrears to the sugarcane farmers. In Bathinda, it was over the registration of false police cases against the people opposing the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

But this change of tack is set to intensify further now.

At a recent meeting held to chalk out the party's strategy for the state assembly session, party leaders reportedly made it clear to Amarinder that the time to interact with people under his 'Halke vich Captain' and with the youth in campuses under 'Coffee with Captain' is over. That's when it was decided that the time to take to the ground level and send across strong feelers that the masses are with the Congress has now arrived.

Party vice president Rahul Gandhi has also reportedly asked party leaders to put an end to their squabbles and fall in line to present a united show. He is said to be closely monitoring the situation in Punjab.

An awakening

Through its two-night long sit in dharna at the state assembly over not being allowed to debate the deteriorating law and order situation in the state, the Congress has also been able to send a strong message to the electorate. Even its critics have pointed out on social media that the party has, towards the end of the five-year tenure of SAD-BJP combined rule, for the first time shown that there is something like an opposition in the state.

"Even as a section of the media has described the developments as much hyped drama wherein Congress MLAs got themselves clicked in abundance, sent out selfies and recordings, the fact is that they have shown that an opposition exists. The switching off of the lights and the air conditioners further got them sympathy as it showed total discourteous attitude of the ruling government. They were able to compel chief minister to come personally and appeal to them to end their protest and they rightfully refused to do so," said a political observer in Ludhiana.

Congress just had a two-night long sit in dharna at the state assembly where they held mock debates

"I appeal to you with folded hands, both in my personal capacity and as leader of the house to join the proceedings of the house as it resumes tomorrow. In the end, we are all here to perform our duties in the house as representatives of the people who have sent us here," Badal had said on 13 September as the Congress protest had continued on the day of Eid-ul-Azha.

While the legislators protested inside the house, Congress workers staged massive protest demonstrations condemning the undemocratic and dictatorial attitude of the government and the Speaker.

It was Amarinder who had appealed to the party rank and file to organise the protests and express solidarity with their legislators at all the district headquarters and major towns. Party workers also burnt effigies of Badal and speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal.

In 5 months, Amarinder said, he will make the SAD-BJP answerable for what they did over 10 years

"In any case it is a matter of five months more, when we will make them answerable to the people for what they did during the last 10 years," Amarinder said while congratulating the party legislators for making the SAD-BJP run away from the discussion and rush for cover.

"For the first time in history the opposition has made the government to walk out of the house," he remarked.

Dramatic turn of events

He attacked Badal for trying to shed crocodile tears by coming to meet the protesting legislators saying he should have intervened and facilitated the discussion before the legislators were compelled to protest.

But things did go overboard on the final day of the session when the Congress MLA Tarlochan Soond hurled a shoe at revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia. The Congress legislators also held a mock assembly session after the house was adjourned amidst pandemonium.

A few days ago, Amarinder also ruled out the possibility of alliance with any political party or group in the state, saying the party on its own is firmly placed to win the elections with a massive majority.

According to the Capt. Akali-BJP alliance is fighting for survival and AAP has already disintegrated

He said that he had suggested a broad based alliance of secular forces earlier, but the situation and circumstances have now changed and the party is way ahead of others. He pointed out, the People's Party of Punjab and Shiromani Akali Dal-Longowal had already merged into the Congress and the BSP had decided to contest of its own.

"You will have a Congress government with landslide victory," he asserted, while pointing out the ruling Akali-BJP alliance was just fighting for survival and that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had already disintegrated.

The next episode

The Congress is also launching a 40-day 'lok-sampark' (mass contact) programme from 19 September onwards and plans to reach out to at least 20 lakh people. Each of the 117 assembly segments will be covered at least thrice and five programmes will be held in each constituency under this initiative.

Several senior leaders will address these programmes, including Charanjit Singh Channi, Sunil Jakhar, Manpreet Badal, Ravneet Bittu, Chaudahry Santokh, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Rana Gurjeet, Kuljeet Nagra, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Ms Preneet Kaur, Vijay Inder Singla, OP Soni, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Hans Raj Hans and Ashwani Sekhri.

Barrage of criticism

The dharna in the Vidhan Sabha has also become a hot topic of discussion. Congress detractors are trying to run down the party by calling it a futile effort. AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira who is a former Congressman said, "I want to ask them why they have started this facade of spending nights in the assembly when they have failed to raise public issue during the daytime."

A message doing the rounds of the social media says, "For nine years they were sleeping outside the Vidhan Sabha, now they are doing it inside."

Criticism apart, the Congress has set the tone for aggressive politics that will be witnessed on the streets of Punjab during the run up to the assembly polls that are barely five months away.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 14 September 2016, 6:48 IST