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Lambi echoes with war cries

SAD-BJP, Congress hold rallies on chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s home turf on last day of campaigning; alliance will win 120 seats out of 117, quips deputy CM Sukhbir; Amarinder gives clarion call to oust Badals, bring Congress back to power. Manpreet Randhawa reports.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2012 14:38 IST
Manpreet Randhawa

The Congress as well as the SAD-BJP alliance concluded campaigning for the January 30 polls with high-voltage, show-of-strength rallies here on Saturday.

Though both Congress and SAD-BJP leaders apparently exuded confidence and boasted of huge victory margins for respective candidates, anxiety was palpable barely two days prior to polling.

Lambi is the home constituency of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. His main rivals are younger brother candidate and People’s Party of Punjab Gurdas Singh Badal, and Congress nominee Mahesh Inder Singh Badal, a second cousin of the Badal brothers.

The Congress rally was organised in an open-air stadium along the Gidderbaha road, while the SAD-BJP event was held about 1 km away on the Malout-Dabwali highway.

From the Congress camp, the star campaigners were Punjab party unit president and chief ministerial candidate Capt Amarinder Singh and former MP Jagmeet Singh Brar.

At the Akali-BJP rally, Parkash Singh Badal assembled a much bigger ‘star cast’, including former Haryana chief minister and old friend Om Prakash Chautala, senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh, farmers’ leader Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Sikh Sant Samaj leader Harnam Singh Dhuma and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal.

During the Congress rally, the crowd burst out laughing when an old man handed over his staff (khunda) to Amarinder for using it against the Akalis. The Captain quipped, “I don’t think I would require it now as the people of Punjab have already assured me of their support to form the next government.”

Amarinder could not help comparing the venues of the two rallies. “While our venue is an outdoor stadium, the Akalis have chosen a place next to the police station, which speaks volumes about their mindset,” he commented.

The Congress rally began at noon and was over by 1pm. The SAD-BJP rally was supposed to have begun at 1pm, but was delayed till 2.15pm due to the late arrival of the CM, deputy CM and Dhuma.

“The Akalis have brought Dhuma to address the gathering here because I have learnt that Dera Sacha Sauda of Sirsa has already declared its support for Congress candidates. It seems the Akalis want Dhuma to counter the dera factor and placate radical Sikh voters. Everyone knows how the radicals went up against dera followers in 2007,” said Bant Singh of Koliawali village.

The SAD-BJP alliance gave Dhuma the first chance to speak and make an appeal on behalf of the Sikh Sant Samaj in favour of Parkash Singh Badal. “I know it is going to be tough for Badal this time, but with your support, he will be the chief minister for the fifth time,” Dhuma said.

Sukhbir said, “I have been to every nook and corner of the state. Trust me, we are winning 120 seats out of 117. I think we would pocket some seats for the 2017 assembly polls as well,” he exclaimed.

He even called upon people to repeat after him that the Akalis would rule for another 30 to 50 years. But then he hastened to add, “I think we might get quite tired after ruling the state for so long. So, we should keep it up to 25 years only.”

In his speech, the senior Badal admitted that due to a tight campaigning schedule, he was not able to devote much time to his constituency. He blamed the Congress for conspiring against his family and triggering Manpreet’s exit from the party.

While the Congress deviated from tradition by spreading out mats for people to sit and listen to their leaders, the Akalis did exactly the opposite by arranging chairs for the gathering.