The popularity contest: Akali Dal, Congress indulge in battle of rallies in Punjab
Chandigarh: The assembly elections are more than a year away in Punjab, but the political scene in the state is already in the hyperactive mode. In a popularity contest of sorts, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress will hold parallel rallies in each other’s stronghold of Patiala and Bhatinda on 15 December. While the ruling Badal family hails from Bathinda, Capt Amarinder Singh, the state Congress president-elect, belongs to the royal family of Patiala.
During a well-attendant rally at Bathinda recently, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had challenged Amarinder Singh to draw a crowd of similar size to prove his popularity. “If Amarinder has the courage he should bring crowds on such a large scale here in Bathinda. Only then will it be known whether the people are with the Akali Dal or the Congress,’’ he said.
Amarinder lost no time in accepting Sukhbir’s challenge and announced that he would hold the Congress’ rally at the same venue on 15 December. The occasion will be akin to a ‘coronation’ for him as on the same day he will officially take over as the party chief in the state. A war of words soon followed. Akali Dal leaders, including Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal even made a sly remark at Amarinder, wondering why the Congress had chosen a general to lead them when he had been defeated twice in the battles by the Akalis - in 2007 and 2012.
Not to be outdone, Sukhbir Badal announced his decision to hold a public rally at Patiala on the same day as the Captain’s rally in Bathinda. While Amarinder has said his rally in the Badal’s stronghold would be better than that of the Akali Dal, the latter too have claimed that Patiala rally would be one of the biggest ever, attended by more than two lakh people.
Both parties are leaving no stones unturned to prove their superiority in the show of strength. The SAD has reportedly hired most of the available private buses in the state to bring people to its Patiala rally. The party plans to press more than 1000 buses into service. The party bent over backwards two days ago to accept the long-pending demands of the bus operators to reduce various taxes that the bus and mini bus operators have to pay.
This has made it very difficult for the Congress to find vehicles for its rally. Congress MP from Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu said facing acute shortage of buses, the party has been forced to hire buses and trailers from Haryana and Rajasthan. The Congress leaders were also angry with the state government officials for helping the state government in hiring maximum number of buses for the Akali rally. A furious Capt Amarinder even threatened the government officials a few days ago, warning them to be prepared for consequences of their action as the Congress was bound to come to power soon.
Meanwhile, People’s Party of Punjab leader Manpreet Singh Badal, who was expected to join the Congress, said he would not be attending the Congress rally at Bathinda as he had not been invited. According to Manpreet, it was a party matter of the Congress and the installation ceremony of Capt Amarinder Singh. PPP had got nothing to do with it, he said.
Senior Congress leader and former Finance minister of Punjab Lal Singh accused the government of sabotaging their rally. He told Firstpost: “The government is stooping low to create problems for our rally at Bathinda. They have made it extremely difficult for us to hire buses. They have also changed our route to Bathinda deliberately to create traffic jams. But our people are determined to reach the venue by tractor, trolleys and private vehicles. We are very sure of holding a highly successful rally because the people of the state respect us and despise them.’’
Vikramjit Chaudhary, Punjab Youth Congress president, said their preparation for the rally was going fine. “It will be a historic rally and there will be more crowd than the Akalis have ever gathered in Bathinda. The government on its own has played every trick in its books to make it difficult for us to hold the rally in their area, but nothing will stop us.”
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