Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not the pinup boy of Punjab. The party’s attempt to showcase the Prime Minister as the mascot — the first Sikh to hold the high office — for the Assembly poll proved to be a damp squib with the “reticent economist” choosing to maintain a low profile. He credited chief minister Amarinder Singh with success.
The rallies did not live up to expectation. The first two meetings in Amritsar and Jalandhar were poor crowd-pullers because of stringent security.
The rally in Jalandhar was held at the Punjab Armed Police (PAP) ground, on the outskirts of the city and was outside the reach of many people, who may have wanted to attend it. Most of those who attended had been mobilised by the local candidates and the Punjab Pradesh Congress, which had organised the rally. It smacked of mismanagement and workers seemed disinterested.
In his 25-minute speech, Manmohan Singh highlighted the reasons why Punjab should vote for the Congress and how the governments, both at the Centre and the state, will help accelerate development.
However, his speech lacked the aggressiveness as he refrained from launching a broadside at the Akali DalBJP combine. The speech was a bird’s eye view of the party’s achievements — and not combative in nature.
A PCC office-bearer said, “Had the Prime Minister attacked the Akalis and Badal in particular, it would have made a lot of difference”. Speaking in a western Punjabi dialect, the Prime Minister tried to strike an emotional chord with the people of both Amritsar and Jalandhar by raising issues close to them. “Our endeavour should be to once again make Punjab the number one state in the country”.
He had a special message for the people of Doaba, many of whom he said had settled in the United Kingdom and America. “I have created a ministry for overseas Indians to address NRI concerns so that they can contribute effectively to the region’s development,” he said.
“Industrialists are looking to Mohali and Chandigarh as investment destinations, preferring them to Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.”
This was because of the “good work done by Capt. Amarinder Singh”. Posters of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Amarinder Singh had been put up at the venue. But most speakers made it a point to mention that every vote for the Congress would be to repay Sonia Gandhi’s “debt” to make Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister will address more meetings in Patiala and Ludhiana on Tuesday. In sharp contrast to the cautious approach of the Prime Minister, Amarinder Singh launched a scathing attack on the Akali Dal and its President, Prakash Singh Badal, and accused them of inflaming religious passions.