Former chief minister and Amritsar MP, Captain Amarinder Singh may succeed in drawing a large crowd to his 'lalkar rally' on Saturday but much of its importance and charm is lost with the opposition as well as the Congress casting doubts over its organisation.
The timing of the Congress rally also aroused a great deal of suspicion, not only in the Congress but also among BJP leaders. A section of the Congress leadership, loyal to Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Partap Singh Bajwa claimed that Amarinder had planned his rally on the advice of the senior leadership of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
To support their claim, the Bajwa camp has pointed out that Amarinder has been 'soft' towards revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia on the drugs issue and is also opposed to a CBI inquiry in the Patiala synthetic drug racket. According to Bajwa supporters, the Akalis had assured Amarinder of their support for the success of the rally.
"The entire move was to belittle the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had started coming out of the shadow of the Akalis and had started flexing its muscles. Like the Congress, the BJP too had started pointed a finger at the Akalis on the drugs issue", a senior Bajwa loyalist from Gurdaspur told HT.
In fact it is not just Congressmen in the Bajwa camp but also some Amarinder loyalists who doubting the Captain's sincerity. Their contention is that by holding the 'lalkar rally' the Congress has served the cause of the Akalis in their intra-alliance squabble with the BJP.
The contention in the Bajwa camp is that if the BJP had held its rally it would have been hard for Amit Shah to explain the transfer, now stayed by high court, of enforcement directorate (ED) officer Niranjan Singh from Jalandhar at a time when he was closing in on Majithia and other Akali leaders on the drug issue.
The state BJP is also suspecting a helping hand of their alliance partner in the planning of the Congress rally as it is scheduled on the same day as Shah's rally. In fact the state leaders have conveyed their suspicions to their party high command.
The 'lalkar' (challenge) had already become a one-sided affair with the Bharatiya Janata Party calling off its anti-drug rally scheduled on the same day. The BJP excused itself on the pretext of the Delhi assembly polls, claiming that party president Amit Shah, who was to be the main speaker, would be busy in Delhi.
The cancellation of the rally by the BJP at that time did send a wave of jubilation in the Congress, with its leaders claiming that the BJP had 'run off' as it feared that it would not have been able to mobilise crowds for its rally. The Congress had planned to expose the 'double standards' of the BJP on the drugs issue -- siding with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the state assembly and crying hoarse outside Punjab.
With the BJP now no longer in the arena, Amarinder, who is also the deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, will use the rally as a show of strength, so as to send a message to the party high command about his popularity.
Rally coordinator and MLA, Gurjeet Singh Rana has predicted that it will be the largest ever crowd to have assembled in Punjab in recent years.
Though he has accused the state government of creating hurdles in the success of the rally and trying to intimidate people so that they don't attend the rally, but so far no such complaints have come before the police.
The Congress is concentrating on ferrying people from all the nine assembly segments that fall in the Amritsar parliamentary constituency that the Captain represents. However to impress the former chief minister, Congress leaders from other areas are also likely to bring people with them.
Other than the drugs issue, Amarinder is also likely to concentrate his attacks on the functioning of the SAD-BJP government and its policies. He will also centre his attack on the land acquisition ordinance.
There is no word of Bajwa attending the rally. "He is free to come, we are not stopping anyone", Gurjeet said.