November 26, 2015 8:16:18 pm
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had billed its Sadbhawna rallies as demonstrations of communal peace and harmony in the state after weeks of unrest over the desecration incidents. But at Monday’s rally, the first in a series of SAD’s such gatherings across the state, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal left no doubt in anyone’s minds that this was nothing less than a political show of strength, while his son, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, declared it as the start of the party’s re-election campaign.
Chief Minister Badal said in his address that the Sadbhawna rally was not being held for political mileage and underlined the message of communal harmony, but describing the gathering as the “most important” in his entire 70-year political career, he lashed out at the Congress and radical leaders, alleging they were “two sides of the same coin”. He also accused them of “disturbing” peace and harmony in the state and thanked people for their “blessings” to the Badal family.
For the inaugural rally, SAD elected representatives and leaders designated as constituency in-charges had put together tens of thousands of people from across five districts – Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar, Fazilka and Faridkot. They used public transport buses to ferry an estimated 35,000 people to the rally venue, a massive undeveloped ground belonging to the Pearls Group.
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who had disappeared from public view for over two months, was present at the rally, which was also attended by Punjab BJP leaders, including state party chief Kamal Sharma and Union Minister Vijay Sampla.
Referring to the “dark days” that had devastated Punjab, Badal accused the Congress and radical elements of trying to take the state back in time, and said the two had joined hands to hold the November 10 Sarbat Khalsa with an itention of disturbing Punjab’s hard-won communal peace.
“Both of them (these forces) are two sides of same coin,” he said, appealing to Congress leaders Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa to “not play with the peace and brotherhood”. As the CM spoke, there were SAD workers on stage wearing the slogan ‘Punjab Bachao, Khalistan Bhajao’ on their clothes.
“If you play with fire, your fingers will also be burnt,” he said, also making a reference to Congress’s role in Operation Bluestar. He also said that the radicals who were only posing as panthic leaders. “There is only one Panthic Jathebandi, which is SAD,” he said.
He also trashed farmers’ unions, which had organised an agitiation in the state last month, and said they were “fooling” small farmers, telling them they would get Rs 40,000 per acre compensation for the whitefly attack on cotton. Badal asked farmers not to fall into the trap of such organisations.
Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal went a step further, virtually inaugurating SAD’s re-election campaign: “I want to tell Congress that the 2017 election war has commenced today”. With all his energies over the last few days focused on outdoing the numbers at the recently-held Sarbat Khalsa, Sukhbir dared Congress leaders Amarinder and Bajwa to hold a rally of such scale. “SAD is your party,” he told the gathering. “It is a party of poor farmer, traders… it is 95-year-old party and nobody can destroy it”.
He also called Gandhi family as an ‘enemy’ of Punjab and was the only speaker to accuse AAP of also trying to ‘vitiate the atmosphere in the state’. Pointing at the gathering, he said,” This is the gathering who as per the claims of rivals was not allowing us to enter villages. Let Rahul Gandhi or that `topiwala’ (AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal) come in this area; nothing is going to happen now. We will rule for the next 25 years.”
He also made an oblique reference to AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, asking the party to set its own house in order before setting out to solve Punjab’s drug problem.
Criticising the call by radical groups for a ‘black Diwali’ this year, Harsimrat Kaur Badal urged people to go all out to celebrate Guru Purab later this week. “We should should celebrate parkashutsav of Guru Nanak Dev Ji with full spirit and let us obey the orders of only Akal Takht and not anyone else”.
Sukhbir in his speech mentioned, that “most of the culprits behind sacrilege cases have been booked while CBI will unearth the rest of the faces soon.” He reasoned,” it is not that our police cannot do inquiry, but there were links of Pakistan and other foreign countries in this crime, so CBI was handed over three cases”.
Many thousands attended the rally. Many of them said they were workers who had been brought to the rally. Members of the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) and the Student Organisation of India(SOI), the party’s student wing, mingled with them.
Ministers Janmeja Singh Sekhon and Sikander Singh Maluka, who had faced the maximum public ire in the recent past, said: “A few people protesting in name of kisan unions are naxalites and we will not sit at home fearing them”.
BJP state President Kamal Sharma, Union Minister Vijay Sampla and cabinet Minister Surjit Jayani too spoke on the occasion and accused the Congress of being hand-in-glove with hardliners and creating unrest in Punjab.
(with inputs from PTI)
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