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Punjab leaders provoking violence ahead of polls?

Punjab Election 2017 Updated: Jan 12, 2017 11:07 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab polls

Union minister Harsimrat Badal and (left) Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann.(HT File Photo)

A hotbed of communists, Mansa, is where the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is now trying to make its political statements. There is also the symbolism — it falls in the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency of Harsimrat Badal, Union minister and daughter-in-law of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann may be fighting against Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal from Jalalabad but he chose Mansa to forewarn a violent campaign season ahead of February 4 polls in Punjab.

The public meetings of Mann are pulling crowds even during night hours and videos of his speeches — peppered with his slapstick jokes — have been going viral as youth and NRIs, the AAP’s main support base are sharing it on social media.

In these videos, Mann can be heard telling voters that “ruling Akalis will be welcomed with stones”.

The first such video is of July 17 last year of Mann’s speech in Mansa. The most recent is of January 4 at Sardulgarh, also a part of Bathinda Lok Sabha seat. “They (SAD leaders) will not get votes but stones. There will be black marketing of stones in the coming days.

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The identity of a stone-pelter is never known. Dala dala (stone) hota hai, pata nahi kidhar se chala hota hai (a stonepelter is never caught as nobody knows about his identity),” he said in a speech at Mansa and then asked people to cheer, if they liked it, and many are doing so it seems.

VIRTUAL WAR TURNS INTO GROUND REALITY

These videos have been evoking a bitter exchange of comments between Akali and AAP supporters on Facebook, YouTube and WhatApp. But the virtual war has now turned into a bitter ground reality.

Within two days of hurling of stones at Sukhbir’s convoy in Jalalabad, a shoe was hurled on Wednesday at CM Badal while he was campaigning in his bastion, Lambi.

The AAP has fielded Jarnail Singh against the CM. Jarnail had shot to fame by hurling a shoe at former Union finance minister P Chidambaram. He was elected Delhi legislator and is one of the contenders for AAP’s CM face in Punjab.

Harsimrat added more fuel to the already charged-up poll atmosphere in Punjab. Reacting to hurling of shoe at the CM, she came up with an “eye for an eye” threat, with even worse consequences for the AAP. “If Badal Sahab will ask party workers to get violent, then AAP workers would not even stay alive,” Harsimrat said.

The violence in the state is not a recent phenomenon. Both AAP and SAD workers have been clashing at rallies and registering police complaints against each other for about a year.

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s car was attacked in Ludhiana in February last year.

As SAD and AAP clash, Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh has his own reasons to express fears of Punjab polls turning violent. He believes Akalis would indulge in violence as they are on a “downswing”.

But the “AAP aggression” has made the Congress anxious. Amarinder has condemned the attack on Sukhbir but described it as “pent-up anger” of the people.

A Congress leader explains, “It was earlier the Congress that was making news by holding sitins inside the state assembly and outside CM’s residence. Now, the AAP is taking the aggression route to up its game in Punjab and fan strong anti-incumbency sentiments. Public perception matters in elections and AAP may emerge as Badals’ main challenger.”

The AAP’s popularity with Sikh radicals has the SAD as much worried as the Congress. And both have been targeting Arvind Kejriwal’s party by alleging it is “flirting” with Sikh radicals and getting funds from them, reminding voters of Punjab’s troubled past.