Former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh here on Wednesday declared that in case the Congress formed the next government in the state under his leadership, the money sanctioned for the Shagun scheme would be increased from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 and the old-age and social security pensions would be increased from Rs 250 to Rs 2,000.
With the entire Congress leadership from Doaba supporting him, the deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha also announced to give incentives to encourage industrialisation and special schemes to boost the farm sector.
Virtually launching a poll campaign, Amarinder projected himself as the best-suited candidate for the chief minister's post after the 2017 assembly elections.
"The Congress government in Punjab will fight for the poor, Dalits and senior citizens. The industry would be promoted, for which we will not refrain even from making new rules. Special policies would be made for the unemployed youth and widows," Amarinder said.
He also ruled out forming a new political party in case the Congress did not project him as the next chief minister. "I have spent 16 years in the party. These speculations are baseless," he said.
Slamming the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Amarinder said it was a group of inexperienced leaders. "You need a government that knows Punjab's pulse. The SAD-BJP is a group of looters while the AAP doesn't know how to rule. You can see the AAP government's performance in Delhi. On the contrary, I have 47 years' experience in politics, during which I remained MLA five times and MP twice. I know how the government runs. Still, if you want to support the AAP, you can as it's a democratic set-up," Amarinder said.
The former CM said the SAD was playing politics of religion and using Sikhism to derive political mileage. "The government recently celebrated the 350th anniversary of Anandpur Sahib. It is a good thing as we have a glorious past. But they used the event for self-promotion and it appeared that only the SAD was celebrating this. Leave aside inviting me, the government did not invite even former prime minister Manmohan Singh, during whose tenure Punjab got a number of special schemes," he said.
Slamming chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Amarinder said Badal didn't have the guts to speak before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was not able to put across to the Centre the genuine demands of Punjab. "The only thing Badal can do is to present Modi a bouquet. He cannot utter a word before the Prime Minister as his legs tremble the moment he tries to do so," he quipped.
Takes dig at Bajwa
Amarinder denied that he was challenging state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa's authority by organising 'parallel' rallies.
Talking to the media after his mass campaign rally, he said: "How am I challenging Bajwa? What can I do if people are attending my rallies, not his?" he quipped, adding that being the deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, he had the right to hold such rallies.
Slamming Bajwa for issuing notices to three party leaders Jagbir Brar, Satnam Kainth and Karan Kaur Brar Captain stated that during his tenure as the PPCC chief, if any leader cited ill health or a death in the family as the reasons for not attending a party function, he used to offer help to them.
"I don't know what Bajwa wants to show by doing all this. You (Bajwa) are harming leaders without any provocation or fault. Moreover, the timing of issuing notices just one day before my rally is also suspicious. It was a well-known fact that Jagbir Brar was organising my show," Amarinder said.
Meanwhile, the former CM got the backing of an array of Congress leaders, including Jalandhar MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh, Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, former PPCC chief Mohinder Singh Kaypee, former ministers Chaudhary Jagjit Singh and Avtar Henry, PPCC vice-president Col CD Kamboj, and Punjab Youth Congress president Vikramjit Chaudhary.
The leaders refrained from commenting on Bajwa but urged the party high command to change the state leadership "as soon as possible" by giving "full powers" to Captain.
Kaypee said, "Delay of each day in giving the command to Maharaja is taking the Congress away from the formation of the next government in Punjab. The party high command must take cognisance of the sentiments of workers on the ground."
Henry said only Captain had the ability to lead the Congress to victory in the next Punjab elections. Jakhar, too, called Amarinder the only hope for Punjab to end the Akali-BJP "misrule".