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#Punjab2017: at Baisakhi Mela, parties trade insults and religious passions

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 13 April 2016, 22:30 IST

Religion dominated the discourse at the annual rallies of Punjab's parties at Talwandi Sabo on the occasion of Baisakhi. Following on from Maghi Mela and Hola Mohalla, this was the latest "religious occasion" the parties used to reach out to the people ahead of the assembly election early next year.

The Congress, SAD and AAP did hit out at each other over socio-economic issues as well, but it was the "communal agenda" that dominated the political conversation.

All three parties had worked overtime to whip up the largest crowd at their rallies.

In a no holds barred attack on the Congress, the ruling SAD reminded the crowd about Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Pointing out that Congress was responsible for both, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said, "How can the people of Punjab go with a party that has worked against the Panth? They were the ones responsible for Operation Bluestar that caused immeasurable damage to our supreme religious place and led to the killing of innocents."

Badal's son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir hit out at Arvind Kejriwal. Calling the party's leadership a "group of Topiwallahs", he said, "The Delhi government did not declare a holiday on Baisakhi. How can this party be seen as being sympathetic towards the farmers and Punjabis?"

Raking up the issue of the demolition of a drinking water booth at Sis Ganj Gurudwara in Delhi last week, Sukhbir said it was a crime against the entire Sikh community. The Akalis have been harping on the demolition on a daily basis, with Sukhbir even raising it with Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The AAP has countered that the demolition was carried out by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which is ruled by the BJP, an ally of the Akalis.

'Akalis are hypocrites'

State Congress chief Amarinder Singh, meanwhile, attacked Badal and his son for the "series of incidents of sacrilege of holy books across Punjab" last year. "They were responsible for holy books being torn and thrown here and there. How can anyone believe they are true Sikhs. First they got this done and then they had peaceful protestors in Behbal Kalan fired upon, leaving two people dead and forty injured."

For AAP, Succha Singh Chhotepur took on the Badals. "They orchestrated the incidents of desecration of religious books to divert attention from other issues on which they have failed to deliver," he alleged. He also lashed out at Sukhbir for describing the demolition of the Sis Ganj water booth as a "mini Bluestar". "He is simply trying to mislead people. The piao stands rebuilt," he added.

Apart from raising religious issues, the Akalis tried to set the agenda on the Satluj Yamuna Link canal issue, saying they would not allow Punjab's water to be "taken away". The Badals held both the Congress and AAP responsible for "trying to rob" the state of its "legitimate right over its river waters".

@bhagwantmann: The image of the prosperous Punjab farmer is now only seen on Akali-owned TV channels

Amarinder hit back calling the Akalis hypocrites. "When we passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act in 2004, we had it approved by the governor withing four hours. But Badal just passed the The Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal Bill 2016, and sat over it. He has given the Supreme Court an opportunity to pass a ruling against us. If that happens, he will resign and go for an early election, hoping to cash in on this issue."

Amarinder threatened to arrest the entire Badal family for the "wrongs they have done to the people of Punjab". He held them responsible for the "plight of the farmers, unemployment of the youth, the flourishing drug trade, and rampant corruption". "Before even forming my ministry, I will appoint a Lokpal to keep a check on all those in power," he added.

'Ability to govern'

The Congressman also attacked Kejriwal for his "doublespeak on the SYL issue". "His village is near Hisar and they would not let him enter if he works against their interests," Amarinder claimed. He also accused the Delhi chief minister of not "keeping his promises to the people" of the national capital and of trying to "mislead the people of Punjab about his achievements".

Taking jibes at AAP's state leadership, Amarinder said "the youth who are going towards AAP must be shown the right path". "Who is going to provide governance? Chhotepur, who was a minister of state for three months under Barnala, or Bhagwant Mann who reeks at 11 am when he crosses me in Parliament?"

Apart from countering the Akalis and the Congress, the AAP leaders raised "people-centric issues". Talking about farmer suicides and the drug menace, Bhagwant Mann said, "MPs from other states cannot believe that Punjab's farmer, whose image is of a happy and prosperous man, can commit suicide. I tell them the prosperous image is seen only on TV channels owned by the Akalis."

Sukhbir: AAP didn't declare a Baisakhi holiday in Delhi. How can this party be sympathetic to Punjabis?

"Recently a man wrote a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the shroud of his son who had died of drug abuse. At least now, the Akalis must accept that the problem of drugs exists in Punjab."

Sanjay Singh took on the Akalis for questioning AAP's "ability to govern". "They question our experience. Well, it's true that we have no experience in cheating people, in running mining and drug mafias. All those indulging in such practices will be thrown in prison when we come to power."

First published: 13 April 2016, 22:30 IST