Setting its one-point agenda for the 2017 assembly polls, the state Congress on Saturday declared to wage an all-out battle against drugs in Punjab under former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who was projected as the "unchallenged" leader of the party.
"This is the beginning of our battle against drugs and the time for us to take a pledge to eradicate the menace if we have to save Punjab," Amarinder said while referring to the impressive gathering that had assembled in the holy city for his 'Lalkar rally' against drugs.
State Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa got the royal ignore as Amarinder did not mention him, saying the battle against drugs would be fought under Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The rally was more of a 'lalkar' (challenge) to the leadership of Bajwa than it was to the BJP or the SAD as speaker after speaker heaped praise on the former chief minister, though nobody spoke against Bajwa.
The tone for the agenda for 2017 was set by Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar when he indicated that his party had taken upon itself the 'lalkar' (challenge) of getting rid of the SAD-BJP government with people's support. The only person who could cleanse Punjab (of drugs) is none other than Amarinder, he said, clearly projecting the former chief minister as the undisputed leader of the party in the state.
Jakhar suggested that all party MLAs, MPs and other leaders should stage a dharna against drugs in Delhi. The Prime Minister must be categorically told that the BJP is "party to the wrongdoings of the Akalis", he said. Amarinder endorsed the suggestion later.
Amarinder, also the local MP, did not indulge in his usual bashing of the Badals or Majithia, and urged those present to perform an 'ardas' (prayer) so that the drug menace could be eradicated.
"In case we come to power in 2017, my foremost task would be to cleanse the state of drugs; thereafter, other issues like unemployment would be taken care of," he said.
Show of strength
Prominent among those present included former union ministers RL Bhatia, Manish Tewari and Preneet Kaur, former state Congress presidents Lal Singh and Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Jalandhar MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh.
The 32 MLAs who were present, as claimed by the rally organisers, were Sunil Jakhar, Rana Gurjit, Lal Singh, Preneet Kaur, OP Soni, Sukh Sarkaria, Raj Kumar Verka, Tript Bajwa, Kewal Dhillon, Rana Sodhi, Ashwani Sekhri, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Ajaib Singh Bhatti, Amrik Singh Dhillon, Aruna Chaudhary, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Charanjit Singh Channi, Gurcharan Singh Boparai, Guriqbal Kaur Babli, Gurkirat Singh Kotli, Harchand Kaur, Hardayal Singh Kamboj, Jagmohan Singh, Joginder Singh Panjgrain, Karan Kaur Brar, Navtej Singh Cheema, Parminder Singh Pinki, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Sunder Sham Arora, Tarlochan Singh Soond and Independent MLA Rajnish Kumar Babbi, owing allegiance to the Congress.
Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki was busy with prayers at the Golden Temple and had sent his supporters.
Prominent among those absent included MLA and senior leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Patiala rural MLA Brahm Mohindra and Charanjit Kaur Bajwa, Qadian MLA and wife of the state Congress chief. Indian Youth Congress chief and Gidderbaha MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring also stayed away as did Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and MLA Randeep Singh Nabha.
Ludhiana MLAs Bharat Bhushan, Rakesh Pandey and Surinder Kumar Dawar also did not attend the rally. Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra was another absentee.