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In heat-wave conditions, Punjab politics gets hotter (Punjab Newsletter)

Chandigarh, May 24 (IANS) Death, funeral pyre, blood-laced, cheap entertainers, breast-beating, power-drunken mind and obituary - these are the words top politicians in Punjab are using to hurl invectives at each other in a virtual free for all.

The immediate provocation for all this is the recently held zila parishad and panchayat samiti village-level elections. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine comfortably swept the polls, with the opposition Congress being decimated.

"Punjab Congress dead as political party in Punjab; Bajwa was called in merely to light funeral pyre: Sukhbir," screamed the headline of a press note issued by the Punjab information and public relations department.

"No place for negative tactics. People want leaders, not cheap entertainers; they want substance, not sensationalism, constructive politics not destructive politicking," the release went on, quoting Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Badal's barbs were aimed at recently appointed Punjab Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa, who is the MP from Gurdaspur. The rural bodies' elections were his first test after being appointed in March.

"Knock-out in the very first round for the new Congress president," Badal said, while summing up the latest triumph of his party.

Since the assembly elections last January, the Congress has been on a losing spree - be it the assembly polls, by-elections, municipal polls and now the rural elections.

Mincing no words, Badal added: "The Congress is no longer a stakeholder in Punjab. We had always maintained that Amarinder Singh would do to the Congress in Punjab what Mr. Sidharath Shankar Ray had done to the Congress in West Bengal in the 1970s. The Congress has never been relevant in West Bengal after Ray's tenure as chief minister. That history has been repeated in Punjab. It was a victory of substance over sensationalism."

Badal said: "Mr. Bajwa presents a sad sight today. There was something funeral about his campaign style and he seemed to be writing merely an obituary for his party. His breast-beating during the campaign has merely proved to be prophetic about the death of his party."

The Congress reacted angrily to Badal's outburst.

"The Congress condemns the use of unparliamentary, derogatory, cheap and arrogant idioms. This sort of uncouth and offensive language exposes the feudal, arrogant and power-drunken mindset of the junior Badal," Congress spokesman and outspoken leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira said.

"The way that the Akali Dal-BJP has achieved this blood-laced, questionable victory is a matter of shame, moral defeat and not pride. Akali goondas ruled the roost with the open support of the police. The Congress terms the entire election process a farce, eyewash, hijack and murder of democracy," Khaira contended.

Contesting the claims of Badal and the Punjab police chief that the elections were fair and peaceful, Khaira said: "Does Sukhbir Badal want Punjab to turn into a chaotic Pakistan-type democracy? This victory is nothing but an abuse of power, misuse of police force and polluting the electoral process with money, muscle power and drugs."

"Do political parties get decimated or wiped out by a couple of electoral defeats? If this is a measure of success or failure, then the junior Badal should explain whether the Bhog (memorial prayer) of the Akali Dal was conducted by his father, when they lost their security deposit in the 1989 parliamentary elections? The Akalis boycotted the 1992 elections due to the fear of the gun. Was the Bhog of the party conducted thereafter?" Khaira asked.

"We demand an unconditional apology from this power-drunk, arrogant brat," an angry Khaira said.

With a heatwave sweeping across Punjab over the past few days, the political temperature too seems to be heading north!

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)