The traffic movement in Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts was thrown out of gear on Thursday, as Congress activists swarmed main roads and major highways, shouting slogans against the Punjab government while demanding a CBI inquiry into the Patiala synthetic drug racket.
Effigies of revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia were set ablaze at many places, with protesters demanding his arrest following Jagdish Singh Bhola, the kingpin of the drug racket, alleging the minister of being a part of the drug racket.
The protest led to traffic jams at several places, causing inconvenience to commuters.
Even though, the two-hour (11am-1pm) 'Chaka Jaam' call was given by the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC); party men owing allegiance to former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh kept away from the protest.
The cops were kept on their toes dealing with long queues of vehicles after the Congress workers lifted the dharnas. However, police made no attempts to disperse the protesters who were squatted on the roads and bridges.
However, some Congress leaders later claimed that police did not allow some of their workers to reach dharna sites.
The Congress leaders who led dharna in their respective areas claimed that the protests were a success.
However, the protests in the two districts passed off peacefully, with no incident of violence being reported.
Protest by Amritsar Rural District Congress Committee (DCC)
Amritsar Rural DCC chief Gurjit Singh Aujla claimed that in the areas under his jurisdiction, dharnas were organised at five places. He claimed that the protests had the "desired effect".
Former MLA Jasbir Singh Dimpa led his party activists to block the two most strategic bridges on NH-1 over the Beas River. With both bridges blocked, traffic coming to and moving out of Amritsar was affected for two hours.
The protesters, shouting slogans against the government, also burnt an effigy of Majithia.
Another former MLA Harpartap Singh Ajnala staged a dharna at the T-point on the Ajnala road near Raja Sansi International Airport, causing inconvenience to airport passengers.
PPCC general secretary Lalli Majithia led his supporters in blocking the Amritsar-Pathankot highway at Kathunangal. Lalli had also organised a 'langar' for those who got affected by the blockade.
Another group of Congress leaders staged a dharna at Attari town, while Aujla led his supporters in staging a protest near Gumtala on the Ajnala road. Former minister Sardool Singh Bundala blocked traffic at Mehta Chowk.
Protest by Amritsar urban DCC
Congress workers led by PPCC general secretary Fateh Jung Bajwa blocked the vital Bhandari Bridge in the city. DCC urban chief Rajeev Bhagat also participated in the protest.
While addressing his party activists, Bajwa demanded the arrest of Majithia and a CBI inquiry into the Patiala drug racket. He accused deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal of trying to shield Majithia and other Akali leaders by refusing a CBI inquiry.
"The Punjab police will at no cost book or arrest Majithia, as it does what the junior Badal dictates. Let the CBI inquire into the case and whosoever is involved should not be spared,"he added.
Another local Congress leader Dinesh Bassi also led a protest of his supporters at the traffic lights chowk near New Amritsar.
Tarn Taran protests
As usual, in Tarn Taran district, the focus of the Congress protest was on PPCC general secretary Harminder Singh Gill, who led his supporters to stage a dharna at Harike and blocked the only route linking Majha with the Malwa belt.
With no alternate routes available, people moving on the highway had no choice but to wait for the protest to end. Due to extreme cold conditions, Gill delayed the dharna by an hour - commencing at 12pm and ending at 2pm.
An effigy of Majithia was also burnt here.
Tarn Taran DCC chief Sukhpal Singh Bhullar along with his father and former minister Gurchet Singh Bhullar led the protest at Bhikiwind.
Former DCC chief Dharamveer Agnihotri, an Amarinder loyalist, also led his supporters to stage a protest on Tarn Taran bypass.
A protest was also organised in the Khadoor Sahib constituency, though the Congress MLA of the area, Ramanjeet Singh Sikki was not there. According to a senior Congress leader, Sikki was away in Amritsar, where he was doing 'langar sewa' at the Golden Temple for the last couple of days.
Cong leaders who stayed away
Perhaps the only assembly segment in Amritsar district that did not witness any protest was Raja Sansi. This was because its MLA, Congress' Sukh Sarkaria, is a detractor of Bajwa and is toeing the 'no CBI inquiry' line of Amarinder.
Other senior leaders who did not participate in the protest included deputy speaker Darbari Lal, former MLA Jugal Kishore Sharma, Ashwani Pappu and Tarsem Singh DC.
Vice-chairman of the National Commission for SCs/BCs Raj Kumar Verka also abstained from the protest. Verka, Congress MLA from Amritsar West, is opposed to the CBI inquiry.
Khadoor Sahib Congress MLA Ramanjeet Singh Sikki also did not take part in the protest. His supporters claimed that he was doing 'langar sewa' at the Golden Temple and so could not come. Sikki, who maintains a low profile, is close to Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit Singh, who does not see eye-to-eye with Bajwa.
However, the most notable absentee was PPCC vice-president OP Soni, the Amritsar Central MLA. Family sources said Soni was out of the state.
In Tarn Taran district, two staunch supporters of Bajwa - GS Mamanke and GS Rataul - were also missing from the protest.