Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday accused AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal of allegedly helping “forces” seeking to push Punjab back into militancy, prompting a sharp retort from the Delhi chief minister in a high-voltage end to campaigning in the state.
Voting will be held on February 4 for 117 assembly seats in the state, once the country’s food bowl but reeling under growing unemployment and drug abuse among its youth.
The ruling SAD-BJP alliance is battling anti-incumbancy after ten years in power and is expected to face a tough fight from a rejuvenated Congress led by former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Analysts have warned against writing off Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which is looking to expand its footprints beyond Delhi.
Campaigning was marred by the death of six people in an explosion, believed to a car bomb, at Maur in Bathinda on Tuesday and the killing of a right-wing Hindu leader in Ludhiana on January 14.
“(A) bomb blast took place and six people died. Arvind Kejriwal… is helping these forces and helping them raise their head. And this is most dangerous thing for Punjab,” Gandhi said at Lambi, the constituency of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who will face Amarinder Singh in the polls.
“If these forces raise their head again, then entire agenda will be hijacked and Punjab will look in some other direction,” Gandhi said, referring to the armed Khalistan movement of the eighties that had left hundreds of people dead.
In a series of public rallies in the politically crucial Malwa belt, the Congress leader also attacked the ruling Badal family, shortly after sharing lunch with residents of a Sangrur village.
“From one extremist thinking (SAD-BJP), Punjab should not go to the other extremist thinking (AAP). Congress is one such party which takes all sections along,” Gandhi added.
Kejriwal took to Twitter to hit back at Rahul Gandhi.
“Rahul didn’t utter (deputy chief minister) Sukhbir Badal or (revenue minister Bikram) Majithia’s names in his speeches. He (is) only cursing me. Am I distributing chitta (a cheap chemical variant of heroin)? (Is) Rahul so scared of me,” Kejriwal said.
The SAD-BJP alliance ended its campaign listing out its development works. Sukhbir Singh Badal termed the Congress an anti-Sikh party and AAP a “party of anarchists” now in the control of Sikh radicals.
The campaign saw a host of key campaigners including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BSP chief Mayawati and BJP president Amit Shah besides actor-politicians Hema Malini, Smriti Irani, Punjabi singers Babbu Mann and Harbhajan Mann.
(With agency inputs)