Promising to make Punjab the "No. 1" state once again, AICC President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday called for the defeat of the "divisive" forces in the ensuing assembly elections in the state.
Addressing a fairly large gathering in this predominantly rural assembly segment, which during the hey days of terrorism had produced dreaded terrorists like Harjinder Singh Jinda and Surjit Singh Penta, Sonia Gandhi said a secular government at helm was necessary for ensuring peace, prosperity and progress. Though she did not name either the Akali Dal or the BJP, the AICC President said Punjab couldn't afford to take chances with political parties whose agenda was to divide the people and weaken the social fabric of the nation.
Dressed in a brown rust coloured salwar-suit with a beige shawl, Sonia Gandhi began her address by paying obeisance to the 'pavitra dharti' (holy land) of the Harmandir Sahib. Complimenting the Amarinder Singh led Congress government for putting Punjab back on the fast track of progress and development, Sonia Gandhi said five years ago when she had launched the party's campaign, the state was debt ridden and there was no development.
She said the government had strived hard to fulfill all the promises that it had made in 2002 and during these five years a solid foundation had been laid. "We have to build further on this foundation," she said playing the 'center card' and insisting that with Congress governments both in Delhi and Punjab there would be no dearth of support. Taking a dig at the Akalis, Sonia Gandhi said though "they" were part of the NDA government, nothing was done for Punjab. "It was only when an honest and hard working person, Dr Manmohan Singh, took over as the prime minister support came and development took place," she said.
Laying a special emphasis on the role of the "brave Punjabi womenfolk", Sonia Gandhi said "new Punjab" cannot be build without their active participation and support. Drawing cheers form the women in the crowd, the AICC president said the UPA government had brought in several legislations to protect women.
In her address Sonia Gandhi made a mention to the legendary Pratap Singh Kairon for providing strong leadership to the state and putting it on the path of progress. Kairon's mention, though appropriate was ironical since his grandson, Pratap Singh Kairon, is a senior Akali leader (married to Prakash Singh Badal's daughter) and is contesting elections from the Patti constituency in Tarn Taran parliamentary segment.
In an attempt to strike an emotional chord with the people of the border areas, Sonia Gandhi recalled the sacrifices of the Punjabi's in saving the country from foreign invasions. "These brave Punjabis have to bear the brunt of the sufferings," she said that adding that the nation was indebted to them.
Emphasising on the need for a second green revolution for the economic upliftment of the farmers, Sonia Gandhi said Punjab also needs development in power sector, health, education, industry and infrastructure. Appealing for support of the party candidates, she said her party had promised to make Punjab the "No. 1" and would do so. "We only promise what we can deliver," she said.
In his address, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh said if the Congress gets another term, the party would secure the future of the new generation. He said the party would initiate programmes and policies that would generate 20 lakh jobs by getting direct investments to the tune of Rs two lakh crores.
Accusing the Akalis of playing politics in the name of the panth, he said they had nothing for the community. "It's the Congress which has succeeded in ensuing free flow of pilgrims to Nanankan Sahib, Panja Sahib, Sacha Sudha Sahib Sri Kartarpur Sahib and Katasgarh," he said adding that his government had declared Tarn Tarn a district on the 400th anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev and memorials were raised at Mukatsar and Chamkaur Sahib.
Playing the Sikh card and projecting Congress to be the custodian of the community, PPCC president Shamsher Singh Dullo said that it was the Congress which first appointed Zail Singh as the President, then Dr Mamanmohan Singh as first Sikh PM. "Even the first Sikh Chief of Army was appointed by the Congress," he said adding that it was time for the community to pay back these "debts".
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