PANTHIC ISSUES ruled on a “politically hot” Sunday in Punjab, with three major political parties — the ruling Congress, opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) — projecting themselves as the ‘saviours’ of the Sikh community and trading political barbs.
The rallies, by Congress and SAD, and the protest march by a group of AAP leaders, led by Sukhpal Singh Khaira, drew huge public response at their respective venues in Lambi, Patiala and Kotkapura.
The incidents of sacrilege and demand for punishing the perpetrators remained at the centre of both Congress and AAP’s rallies. SAD, however, focused more on projecting the five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal as the “saviour of the Panth” and efforts he had made during his political career for this.
“Sangat cannot tolerate gurdwara administration going into the hands of Congress and its stooges. This is their conspiracy. We have to counter this,” Parkash Singh Badal said during the rally.
Congress and SAD held rallies in each other’s strongholds —Congress in Badal’s village in Lambi and SAD in Amarinder’s home turf, Patiala.
AAP, on the other hand, took out a protest march from Kotkapura town to Bargari village in Faridkot, where protesters led by radical Dhyan Singh Mandh, are already on dharna demanding the arrests of those responsible for the killing of two persons in a 2015 incident of police firing, and punishment for those behind the incidents of desecration that shook the state in 2015.
Like the Bargari protesters, AAP, too, demanded action against Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, alleging that they were perpetrators of the desecration incidents and holding them responsible for the deaths of two men in police firing in Behbal Kalan in 2015.
The protest march organised by AAP drew huge crowds. The entire highway from Kotkapura to Bargari remained choked through the day. With ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ slogans echoing and numerous vehicles bearing posters of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the presence of Sikh hardliner elements was quite evident in AAP’s protest march.
“Have you ever seen a sitting government hold a rally to inform people about its achievements? A government is supposed to work, not hold rallies. This means that the Congress government has done nothing worthwhile,” AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu said at the party’s rally.
Congress leaders, at Lambi, minced no words in squarely blaming Badals for the Bargari and Behbal Kalan incidents and targeted the Akali Dal for the incidents of desecration of the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, in 2015 when the SAD-BJP government was in power.
While state Congress chief chief Sunil Jakhar lashed out at Sukhbir Badal for his ‘meeting’ with Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in Mumbai in 2015, he went on to describe Parkash Singh Badal as a “sacha Akali” (true Akali) but a “majboor baap” (helpless father).
Amarinder sought to assure the gathering that his resolve to ensure punishment to those behind for desecration incidents was not weakening.
Referring to Justice Ranjit Singh Commission’s report, Amarinder said although the Commission indicted Parkash Singh Badal and the then DGP Saini for their role in Behbal Kalan firing, it did not have the authority to recommend punishment. “Thus, an SIT was constituted. Whenever its report comes, we will take it to the court of law and get them punished,” Amarinder said.
“SAD is literally finished among the masses. Bargari da masla sariyan de man vich hai… jina marji eh and ehda munda lad lawe, lokan vich khatam ho gaye han eh (Bargari issue is on everyone’s mind… let he and his son (Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal) fight as much as they want, but they are finished among the masses now),” Amarinder said.
About the decision to organise a rally at Lambi, Amarinder said: “I am being asked what was the need for this rally when we are already in power. Even if you are the ruling party, there is a need to meet masses face to face to tell them about your work and the plans ahead. Being among the masses is important. The day we announced the rally at Killianwali, Sukhbir announced a rally at Patiala, let them do it. But out of their 30,000 seats, not even 19,000 are occupied and here people have come in lakhs. This is called enthusiasm.”
In Patiala, the Badals alleged that Amarinder was deliberately trying to malign their image by blaming them for the sacrilege incidents.
Both Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal accused the ruling Congress of having failed in delivering its promises. of them raised issues of loan waiver, unemployment and drug menace, calling the Congress regime a failure in Punjab.