Not very far from each other, the huge crowds at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rally became the envy of the neighbouring Congress at the Maghi Mela here on Thursday. If the numbers were any indication of the things to come, the Congress should be getting anxious in the run-up to the 2017 polls.
The party, which had gone in an overdrive to pull crowds to its rally -- it had put up the show on over 30 acres and plastered the town with posters -- failed to woo the “aam aadmi” which went in droves to hear AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal.
The pandal -- which Amarinder had claimed on Wednesday was the largest among the three parties -- had just managed to fill by half around 11 am delaying Amarinder’s arrival by over an hour. Though the crowds gradually trickled in and the pandal was full to capacity, it was nowhere close to the near-stampede-like situation near the AAP rally.
Anxiety and aggression
The anxiety also brought back the earlier aggression in Amarinder, who launched a no-holds-barred attack on Kejriwal calling him a “big liar”. “He told a TV channel that he would never contest elections. He only lies. Now he is enacting the drama of holding dinners to collect funds. Ask him how many buses he has hired for the rally? Where are these coming from? He is doing a drama to mislead the state’s disillusioned youth. Please ask your children not to follow him. He has no solutions to their problems. He had promised the moon to the Delhi voters in his poll manifesto but later said it would be enough if he kept even half of what he had promised,” Amarinder said.
He also questioned Kejriwal’s Punjabi credentials. “Does he know Punjabi? He is from Haryana and his team is mainly from Uttar Pradesh. We cannot let non-Punjabis take over the state,” Amarinder said, adding that as chief minister, Kejriwal’s loyalty would be with Delhi, not Punjab.
“Delhi wants Punjab’s waters. I, as chief minister, had annulled the water treaty with Haryana. All of Punjab’s issues are with Haryana. How will a Haryanvi care for Punjab?” he said.
He did not spare even Kejriwal’s teeth. “Kejriwal posters wich wadde dandh kadke haasda rehenda hai (he keeps flashing his big teeth in posters).
As part of Badal-bashing, Amarinder called them a pack of wolves. “I used to call Sukhbir Badal (deputy chief minister) a baloongra (kitten). He has now grown into a billa (cat). Sara parivaar loombar warga ae -- lambe mooh te kann khade (the family is like wolves with long faces and attentive ears),” he added.
Accusing the Badals of killing the youth and farmers, he said, “Does chief minister Parkash Singh Badal know how many farmers have committed suicide? They have sold drugs to youth and are catching the small fish. Who will catch the big fish?” he asked.
Amarinder concluded his speech by promising that he would not hold big rallies till the elections. “In the one year, ask me to go anywhere in Punjab. I will come to your villages to meet you and hear your problems,” he said.
Sidelights: Money matters
The rally organisers of the Congress -- MLAs Kewal Dhillon and Rana Gurmeet Sodhi -- showed where the money for the rally came from. Kewal’s picture on the stage was as big as Amarinder’s whereas Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders were relegated to the top row in small frames. It was Dhillon, Sodhi and Indian Youth Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring all the way on the posters. The Congress won the poster war hands down.
The weather played a spoilsport as the floor was wet despite Congress rally organisers laying plastic sheets. Many preferred to stand than sit on them. The only consolation was the reports reaching Congress leaders that the SAD rally was equally a “damp squib” due to unfavourable winds.
Epithets rain on AAP
Most Congress speakers targeted Kejriwal with the choicest of epithets. Senior party leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal called him “jhootha topiwala” while Raja Warring called AAP MP Bhagwant Mann “dugdugi bajaan wala”. In his charactertic style, Warring made an impassioned speech asking people to uproot the Badals. To perk up the crowd, Warring asked the crowd if they wanted a Badal-mukt Punjab and got a feeble yes in response.
A drone was capturing pictures, zooming in now and then on the crowd and stage. At one point, the stage looked more crowded than the pandal. Amarinder, during his speech, joked asking the organisers to remove the drone from before him.
Anybody who was somebody was on the main stage. Even local leaders chose to swarm on the main stage than the two stages on either side. Congress home-grown talent -- MLA Mohammad Sadiq -- occupied one stage and entertained the audience with his songs till Amarinder arrived.