Rahul sets Cong poll agenda in Punjab, opponents lay into Kamal Nath
- Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi addressed a protest rally in Jalandhar on Monday, 13 June
- He set the poll agenda for the party by taking on the ruling SAD-BJP over the drug menace and Udta Punjab
- Opponents are using Kamal Nath\'s appointment as the Congress\'s state in-charge to attack the Congress
- CM Badal has called it an \'insult to Sikhs\', since Nath was among the accused in the 1984 riots
- AAP\'s allegations against the Congress on the drugs issue
- Why Nath\'s appointment is a gamble by the Congress
Setting the agenda for his party's campaign in poll-bound Punjab, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tore into the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government in the state on the issue of the drug menace, the deteriorating law-and-order scenario and the agricultural crisis.
Leading from the front, the scion of the Gandhi family launched an attack on the ruling combine on these issues, which would form the core of the Congress campaign for the forthcoming Assembly polls.
Rahul participated in a protest organised by his party on the deteriorating law-and-order situation in Jalandhar. This was the second one in a series of protests planned by the Congress as its campaign goes hyper-local.
The drug menace
Taking on both the Central government, led by Narendra Modi, and the Punjab government, which have both been talking about the ease of doing business, Rahul said: "The only business that one can do with ease in Punjab is that of drugs. The Akalis are protecting this business."
He attacked the state government for tying the hands of the Punjab Police, which according to him, is among the best forces in the country. "The Police here are a strong force. It destroyed terrorism in the state. Nowhere in the world has terrorism been destroyed so effectively by the police," he said, while alleging that honest officers are being sidelined.
The Congress leader underlined how the Akalis mocked him when he had raised the problem of drugs in the state four years ago. Referring to the attempts to stop the release of the film Udta Punjab without changes, Rahul pointed: "They want to scuttle the screening of the film. The Akalis are not willing to accept the truth."
Rahul said that when voted to power, the Congress would enact a law to deal with the menace and root out the problem within a month.
He also touched upon the agricultural crisis in the state, and said it was the Congress which had stood by the farmers across the country. He promised to address the farmers' concerns, including the one related to minimum support price.
The Congress put on a massive show of strength in Jalandhar. This was the second such show by the party, with the previous one being at Dina Nagar on 8 June over the non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers.
Nath's new posting a bane?
While Rahul has set the poll agenda for his party, Congress' rivals Akali-BJP as well as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have found issue with the appointment of Kamal Nath as the party's Punjab in-charge.
Ever since the appointment was announced, both the Akalis and AAP have launched a frontal attack, accusing Nath of being involved in 1984 anti-Sikh riots. This as been categorically denied by Nath, who has been insisting he has been absolved by the GT Nanavati Commission probing the riots.
But the Akalis and AAP are going to town with accusations, and the pitch is only expected to get shriller with every passing day.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has termed Nath's appointment as 'the ultimate insult to Sikhs' and said: "This comes on the eve of the visit of Rahul Gandhi to Punjab. It is an unbelievably brazen act of insensitivity towards Sikhs, and crass and vulgar disregard of national opinion on the guilty of the massacre of thousands of innocent Sikh children, men and women by Congress goons in November 1984. I just cannot believe a political party can be so brutally insensitive to the sentiments of the Sikh community."
The Congress' opponents have been saying that Nath came to Gurudwara Rakabganj in Delhi on 1 November 1984 and instructed the police to open fire on Gurudwara Sahib, where a large number of Sikhs were killed. It is also alleged that under instructions of Nath, instead of preventing the attack, policemen present at the scene joined the attackers and fired several rounds at the Gurudwara Sahib.
Badal's party has asked Rahul to explain to Punjabis why he has continued to follow the 'Gandhi family policy of protecting and promoting the perpetrators' of the 1984 anti-Sikh 'genocide', as has been done in the case of Nath.
SAD secretary and spokesman Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said: "You have only rubbed salt into our wounds by making this appointment. Punjabis want to know why the Gandhi family continues to honour the perpetrators of the 1984 genocide with plum party posts. What is the Gandhi family afraid of? Why has it consistently blocked any action against senior leaders including Kamal Nath and Jagdish Tytler?"
AAP trains guns on Cong
AAP has also called it an attempt to rub salt into the Sikhs' wounds. State convenor Succha Singh Chhotepur said that instead of giving justice, the Congress is making a 'cruel joke' on the Sikhs by sending Nath.
The party joined in the chorus with Rahul on the drug menace, but turned its guns on Congress leaders who are facing charges of being involved in drug trade.
Chhotepur and senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh said the Congress initiated the drug menace, which was later picked up by the SAD-BJP combine.
Sanjay asked what stopped Rahul or Congress president Sonia Gandhi to even probe the allegations levelled against then-Punjab Congress chief Partap Bajwa by his successor Captain Amarinder Singh. He said Amarinder had written a letter to Sonia seeking Bajwa's sacking on his alleged relationship with drug paddlers and militants. "Why, after knowing all this, was Bajwa rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat?" asked Sanjay.
He also said that every Punjabi wants to know why nothing was done against drug peddlers in Punjab even after former Chief Election Commissioner Dr SY Quraishi wrote a letter to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about drugs seized during the election campaign in Punjab in 2012.
Observers feel that by appointing Nath as party in-charge for Punjab, the Congress has taken a gamble.
While Nath is known for his good poll management skills, the 1984 riots is an issue that will be raised to the hilt by the Opposition, particularly when there are people like HS Phoolka in AAP who have been fighting the cases of the riot victims in the courts over the last 32 years.
However, it also needs to be pointed out that the Congress won two Assembly polls in Punjab and three in Delhi after 1984, besides winning Lok Sabha seats in successive polls in both these places.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch: