Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi traded barbs on Friday over drug abuse in Punjab, setting the tone for a potentially fiery campaign over the divisive issue ahead of next month’s assembly polls in the state.
Gandhi also named state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial candidate, ending months of speculation on who will lead the party’s battle against the ruling SAD-BJP and the AAP.
All 117 constituencies in Punjab will vote on February 4 and the results will be announced on March 11.
Gandhi has repeatedly targeted the ruling Badal family for failing to address the problem of drug abuse in the state where an estimated 70% of the youth are said to be addicted to what is locally known as ‘chitta’.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, however, claims that the problem was being blown out of proportion.
Without naming anybody, Gandhi said if voted to power, the party will send to jail all those who have looted the state and failed to address the drugs problem.
“The Congress will fight the war against drugs and will win it,” Gandhi said at the SAD-BJP stronghold Majitha, adding the party will also bring in such a stringent law that peddlers would shiver even thinking about drugs.
Gandhi is on a three-day tour during which he will address joint rallies with Amarinder Singh and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Shortly after Gandhi’s rally, Modi addressed a public meeting in Jalandhar and accused the Congress of bad mouthing Punjab’s youth over the drug issue.
“Some people are out to malign the image of the Punjab. Political points are being scored by spoiling the image of Punjab around the world. For the sake of Punjab, punish such people, so that they dare not do this again,” Modi said as he kick-started the SAD-BJP campaign.
He also ridiculed the opposition party as a “sinking ship” which had become “history”.
The ruling alliance of Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party is battling anti-incumbency after 10 years of rule, raising Congress’ hopes of an upset victory in the border state.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is projecting itself as an alternative to both the SAD-BJP and the Congress.
The BJP has promised speedy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax in the state, besides building physical infrastructure, eliminate poverty, ensure education and health care for people.
The party has also promised free education till the PhD level for girls from economically weaker sections as well as jobs for every family.
The Congress took a dig at Modi over the issue again later in the day.
“People of India do not know, even the people of Punjab do not know what Modi knows. Modi knows that there is no drug problem in Punjab. Modi knows but the people of Punjab do not know. It is most unfortunate…all wisdom comes from Modi. What he says is the truth,” senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said in Delh