In an embarrassment to the ruling SAD-BJP government, the grand ‘Jang-e-Azaadi’ memorial function here on Sunday was marred by protests by freedom fighters and their wards who were “specially invited and brought over” by the government for the gala event from across the state. Protesters alleged they were not being granted benefits promised to them or the freedom fighters’ families are entitled to.
Over 400 relatives of freedom fighters were brought to the venue in buses from across the state for this function and even a special dias was erected parallel to the main stage for their seating. Each of them were even honoured with a ‘shawl’.
All of them waited till end of the function and listened raptly to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s speech. But the moment the CM, the last speaker at the function, finished, they rose from their seats and started shouting slogans like “Punjab Government Murdabaad”, “Badal Sarkar Murdabad” and even used quite derogatory language against the CM and and the state government. Then they came out of the “pandal” and started raising the slogans outside. Some of them even threw the shawls given to them.
“We were called 32 times by the state government officials to attend this function, which we did not want to. But then they promised to fulfil our long-pending demands and we agreed to come here,” said Harinderpal Singh Khalsa, son of a freedom fighter and president of Freedom Fighters and Successors Organisation Punjab.
“We had a meeting with CM and Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal around 10 days ago when we were promised that pension would be given to us, but today they didn’t announce anything for us, which is very shameful,” said Prem Sagar from Phagwara, a freedom fighter who participated in ‘Quit India Movement’ of 1942.
Baljit Kaur from Ludhiana, Vijay Rani from Phagwara, Malkiat Singh from Fazilka and several others were furious and used every possible abusive language against the government. They also questioned the contribution of a newspaper editor who was allegedly given the entire credit for this memorial. “Such memorials have come because of the sacrifices of our parents,” they said.
A majority of them even did not have the lunch organised for them and resorted to a brief protest at the entrance of the venue. Deputy Commissioner Jalandhar KK Yadav tried to pacify them, in vain.
The main demands of the protesters were pension for them and their kin. They also said they were promised free bus passes, but not given to date.
Speaking on the occasion, the CM recalled the sacrifices made by the Punjabis in the national freedom struggle and said Punjabis merely constituted 2.5% of the country’s total population, but over 80% of the sacrifices in terms of execution, incarceration or deportation to the islands of Andaman and Nicobar were made by Punjabis. He said it was really shocking that the Punjabis were known for creating history, but they never bothered to preserve their rich legacy of supreme sacrifices. Badal said it was the humble effort made by the state government to set up Jang-e-Azadi memorial to recall the supreme sacrifices made by our great freedom fighters and patriots during the national independence movement spanning over 100 years.
Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister for State and state BJP chief Vijay Sampla also spoke on the occasion.
Noted film-maker Shyam Benegal was also present on the occasion and shot a film there.
The first phase of the memorial that opened today houses several galleries, Shaheed-e-Minar, theatre, laser show venue etc.