Punjab Congress's call for 'chakka jaam'-- halting movement of vehicular traffic--across the state to mount pressure on the SAD-BJP government for a CBI probe into the recently busted and multi-layered drug racket evoked a mixed response, according to the reports from across Punjab.
While many frontline leaders of the Congress stayed away from attending the agitation being spearheaded by Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa , the party leadership failed to mobilise its cadre as thin presence of protesters was witnessed in majority of the protest sites. The two-hour 'chakka jaam' protest passed off peacefully and without any significant traffic snarls as the state police under a smart bandobast had diverted the traffic in advance.
However, the Congress described the response of its workers "overwhelming", while the ruling Akali Dal dismissed the "chakka jam" call as an "utter failure".
Though this state-wide protest was being seen as an acid test of the leadership of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Partap Singh Bajwa, he himself joined the protesters at Landran T point in SAS Nagar for mere 30 minutes. The Congress was miserably found lacking in mobilising its cadre at Landran. Bajwa came here at 1.30 pm and left the venue around 2 pm even as the protest had begun at noon. Congress MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu and MP Ravneet Singh Bittu were among other prominent party leaders present at the protest venue of Bajwa.
"The anger of people of Punjab against drug menace was evident from the fact that thousands of common people joined the protest at different places," Bajwa claimed in a statement. He said the party was left with no option as the SAD-BJP government had been saving cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia after he was named as kingpin of the drug racket by the arrested druglord Jagdish Singh Bhola
Dense fog also dented the Congress's protest as supporters failed to turn up in big numbers in majority of the constituencies of Patiala district.
Former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, his MP wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh were among the notable absentees.
Such was the thin presence of party workers that in Nabha MLA Sadhu Singh Dharmsot was seen with a handful of supporters. Senior Congress leader Lal Singh held symbolic protest on Patiala-Rajpura road, while Hardyal Kamboj blocked Delhi-Jalandhar national highway without much impact.
Police had diverted the traffic and the commuters were a happy lot even as the Congress too failed to put up an impressive show in different assembly segments where the protests were held.
But Gidderbaha MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring managed a good crowd and blocked the Bathinda-Malout road near Bhaliana village of Muktsar district. Faridkot and Ferozepur also remained affected as key points of both cities were blocked by the Congress workers.
Normal vehicular traffic was thrown out of gear in Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts as Congress activists swarmed the roads and major highways, shouting slogans.
At a number of places, effigies of revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia were set ablaze, with protesters demanding his arrest. The protest led to traffic jams at a number of places.
However, Congressmen owing allegiance to Capt Amarinder Singh kept away from the protest. The cops were on their toes, diverting traffic to alternative routes. The police made no attempts to disperse the protesters as they squatted on the roads and bridges.
The sharp differences within the Congress were visible as the party leaders staged what turned out to be a symbolic protest. The district Congress unit stopped the traffic at Jalandhar bypass under district president Pawan Dewan. Another group led by MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu staged a dharna on Ferozepur Road. The overall response was lukewarm in the district.
The call for two-hour Chakka Jaam saw mixed response in the Doaba region with the traffic on NH-1 remaining operational.At every place, traffic was diverted smartly by the police and the participation of the general workers in the dharna lacked enthusiasm.
In Jalandhar, the party failed to leave an impact as traffic remained moving undisturbed.
The selection of protest points chosen in Jalandhar by urban and rural wings of the district Congress also remained questionable as it left plenty of options for the police to divert the traffic on alternative routes.
Urban unit of district Congress led by president Rajinder Beri and senior Congress leader Avtar Henry tried to sit on dharna on NH at PAP Chowk but without much success.
In Kapurthala, the party workers blocked the GT road between Jalandhar and Amritsar for nearly ten minutes after which they were taken into preventive custody by the police and were taken to police station in five buses.