Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh often dismisses the ‘sangat darshan’ as a pet pastime of ageing chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. In a tectonic shift in his poll strategy, however, the former chief minister is giving a much-needed fillip to the Congress campaign ahead of the assembly elections through his newly launched Halke Vich Captain, which is modelled on Badal’s programme.
The outreach campaign that was kicked off from Jalalabad, the assembly constituency of deputy chief minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, on June 19 has started dominating the political discourse in Punjab.
CM Badal, who was in Jalandhar on Thursday to hold another ‘sangat darshan’, did not miss a chance to take a dig at Amarinder’s outreach programme, saying there is no match between “darbars of maharajas” and “pro-people sangat darshan”.
Around the same time, Captain Amarinder, who belongs to the royal family of the erstwhile Patiala state, freely mingled with rural folks of Derabassi and patiently heard their grievances before opting for a quick lunch in a lowly roadside vegetarian ‘dhaba’ at Zirakpur.
“The Congress strategy is that people must see Amarinder as Captain of Punjab and not an erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala. All his programmes have been prepared to project him as Punjab-da-Captain,” a poll strategist of Prashant Kishor team, which is organising the state Congress chief’s programme, said.
Captain, meanwhile, finds “many advantages” in his new poll strategy. “(Parkash Singh) Badal has destroyed the state. I get to know what people are thinking and what they want and how their problems should be addressed,” Amarinder told Hindustan Times at a dhaba in Zirakpur, where he stopped for lunch with party workers after a three-hour “productive session” with the Dera Bassi public.
JAIL FOR THOSE WHO LOOTED PUNJAB DURING AKALI REGIME: CAPT
A large number of people, including women, on Thursday attended the third edition of Halke Vich Captain, held inside an air-conditioned countryside marriage palace. While Captain sat on a podium, the ‘sangat’ was on chairs. Huge screens were in place inside and outside the banquet hall for people to watch the proceedings. During this interactive session, called Lokan Da Darbar, the state Congress president fielded questions, triggering thunderous applause every time he promised: “All those who have looted Punjab during the Akali rule will be sent to jails.”
Poor health services, lack of teachers in schools, administrative as well police corruption, unemployment and drug menace were among the issues that dominated the session. Over 100 people got the opportunity to pose questions to Captain, who announced that if his party forms the government, a special task force will be set up to redress public grievances. The task force, he said, will work under direct control of the chief minister.
In next 24 weeks, Captain is to cover rest of the 114 assembly seats. All grievances submitted by the public during these sessions will be documented. “The special task force will follow each individual case and take it to logical conclusion,” said Amarinder.
Many people slammed Akali Dal treasurer and MLA NK Sharma during the session. The Punjab Congress chief, too, didn’t miss the opportunity to take potshots at him. “This Sharma will also be sent to jail. NK Sharma is the biggest problem of Derabassi and he is associated with every mafia,” Captain Amarinder told the gathering while wrapping up the interaction.
‘CAMPAIGN DIFFERENT FROM SANGAT DARSHAN’
Asked how his public contact initiative is different from Badal’s ‘sangat darshan’, he said: “Badal goes to distributes cheques... We don’t do that. I am interacting with people to know their problems. There has been a total misuse of power by all the Akali Dal-BJP MLAs and ministers. My promise to people is that we will investigate into the role of every minister.”
After the grievance-hearing session, next on agenda was Congress workers’ meet, which was followed by a meeting with local influencers, such as sarpanches, professors, doctors, businessmen and farmers.
The new back-breaking regimen of Amarinder is in sharp contrast to his 2011 poll planning. Then he used to hold only one rally a day and reach the venue in a chopper. Now, he travels in a modest looking car and the entire day is packed with back-to-back sessions. As Captain is sweating, the Congress rank and file is smiling.