With an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the opposition Congress traded charges at the Chhapar Mela here on Thursday.
The mela is celebrated every year in September at this village in Ludhiana district in memory of saint Gugga Pir.
The SAD used the religious occasion to announce sops for minorities and the youth in the sectors of health, education and food supplies. In his speech, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal alleged that under the Congress-led UPA's rule, Punjab and other states had turned debt-ridden.
"Due to the policies of the central government, farmers as well as industrialists of the state are suffering. There are many suicides by farmers every year and the industry is either shifting from the state or closing units permanently," said Badal.
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who arrived late at the mela venue, said, "It should be Narendra Modi (as Prime Minister) in 2014 and I will tell him that relations between the SAD and the BJP are so strong that no one can break them."
Sukhbir announced a scheme under which poor people of the state can avail healthcare facilities to the tune of Rs 30,000 per year at private or government hospitals. He said special cards would be issued to the poor to enable them to get foodgrains free of cost.
He promised that students who get more than 80% marks in Class 10 would be provided Rs 30,000 per year till Class 12.
"If a child of a Scheduled Caste or minority community aspires to become a doctor or engineer, the state government would provide entire fee, even in the case of private institutions," said Sukhbir.
Speaking on the occasion, Aklai leader and former union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia said the process of including Jats among Other Backward Classes (OBC) had been completed in other states, but the same was not being done in Punjab. "The central government should take measures to include Jat Sikhs in the OBC category" he said.