With exactly a week to go for the February 4 Punjab assembly elections, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi trained his guns squarely at deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, calling him “India’s most corrupt man” at a rally in his constituency, Jalalabad of Fazilka district, on Saturday.
The rally launched Congress’ final assault in the constituency where Sukhbir, who has won twice here, is facing a challenge from Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Bhagwant Mann.
A day after formally naming state unit chief Capt Amarinder Singh as the Congress’ CM candidate, Rahul said Amarinder alone can resolve all the problems plaguing the state.
Alleging that the Badals have a “percentage” in the liquor business, own a major chunk of the TV business, and also take their “share” in every other trade, Rahul attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi through it. “PM Modi claims to be fighting corruption. Punjab has the maximum corruption in India, and the symbol of that corruption is Sukhbir Badal. Yet, Modi seeks votes for Sukhbir.”
Rahul invoked the saintly deeds of the first Sikh master, Guru Nanak and said: “Sukhbir Badal claims to protect Sikhism, but his philosophy is of ‘sab mera’ (everything is mine) is in direct contrast with that of the Guru, who said, ‘sab tera’ (everything belongs to God).”
About the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), he also urged people to call their relatives and friends in Delhi — “ask the auto drivers, slum-dwellers, Dalits” — to ask about AAP chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s work there. “He has spent more on advertising than on the people. And now he wants to leave Delhi and become Punjab CM,” Rahul said, adding, “Municipal polls are due in Delhi soon, and AAP will be badly beaten.” He did not mention Mann.
Of Punjabi pride, Italy and drugs
Seeking to invoke the ‘Punjabi versus outsider’ line of argument that the Congress and the SAD both have been taking against the AAP, he underlined that his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s native town in Italy had had a Punjabi mayor.
He underlined how he was mocked when he said (in 2012) that 70% of Punjab’s youth was addicted to drugs. “Sukhbir Badal, the Akalis said I had put a question mark over Punjab’s youth. I only spoke the truth. And now the entire Punjab, Akalis and AAP are saying it too.”
He added, “As soon as Capt Amarinder Singh becomes the CM, we will make a tough law against drug smuggling and give their property to the people.” He promised that Punjab will be “back on track” in two years if Congress came to power with Amarinder as CM.
He particularly targeted the poor in his speech, counting the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) as “promise delivered by the Congress”. “Even the atta-dal scheme for which the Akalis take credit is actually a (food security) scheme of the Congress and (former PM) Dr Manmohan Singh.”
Declaring that “being a true Congressman, I cannot make false promises”, he returned to Modi, saying, “I will not promise Rs 15 lakh in every poor person’ bank account. Due to false promises, only the poor suffers.” He listed the recent demonetisation of old notes of Rs 500 and 1,000 as an example. “Did you see any rich person in the queues at banks?” he asked the attendees, and also apologised for keeping them waiting for an hour “due to the fog”.