Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday accused the Congress of creating an alliance with separatists for electoral gains, as the politics over the unrest in the border state reached Delhi.
At a press conference ahead of his meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee to demand the Congress’s derecognition as a political outfit, Badal unleashed a no-holds barred attack on the party he called “anti-national”.
The Congress promptly dismissed the charges, calling Badal’s malicious and slanderous campaign a reflection of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) frustration and the “congenital obsession” of blaming the Congress for every problem.
“It is natural for Sukhbir and his father to feel frustrated when Rahul Gandhi is hailed and welcomed with open arms across Punjab while going on a padyatra,” Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh said, referring to the party vice-president’s visit earlier this month. Punjab is due to go to the polls in early 2017.
Badal said history was repeating itself in Punjab which had suffered terrorism for 15 years because of the Congress.
“Everyone knows during that time how it started. How in order to fight the Akali Dal, the Congress encouraged certain elements which then went out of control and led to the 15 years of disturbance in Punjab, which even threatened the nation’s integrity,” Badal said at the conference with party leaders, including Naresh Gujral, by his side.
As proof, he cited the presence of some Congress leaders at a gathering in Amritsar on November 10 where, he said, a resolution calling for a separate state of Khalistan was passed.
Badal challenged Rahul Gandhi, who toured the state earlier this month, to act against two Congress leaders who were present at the gathering.
Asked why he was holding a press conference on this issue since the state government was well within its powers to act against secessionists irrespective of their political affiliations, Badal said he wanted to tell the nation about the Congress’s role.
Badal ducked repeated questions on the SAD backing clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana, a convicted terrorist, and finally defended its decision saying it was a legal option. Also, he said they had sought release of only those terrorists who had served the sentences awarded to them as per law.
Capt Amarinder Singh said the Sarbat Khalsa religious congregation of the Sikhs in Amritsar was an expression of anger against the Badal government, and not meant to support Khalistan.
“We in Congress do not need any lessons on patriotism and nationalism from someone like Sukhbir Badal, whose father and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal still takes pride in having burnt copies of the Constitution of India during the Khalistan movement,” Singh told reporters.
Describing the Punjab situation as “controlled destabilisation by the ruling Akalis which has gone out of control”, he said the Badals were trying to divert public attention after sensing growing disenchantment with their regime.
Former minister Ashwani Kumar called Badal’s attack “both shocking and disgusting”.
“It is also a crude attempt to divert the attention of people from the plight and penury of the farmers. It is well-known that militancy in Punjab was the result of intra-party power struggle within the Akali Dal,” the Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab said.