The much-hyped Sadbhawana rally on Monday will be a litmus test for the beleaguered ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as its image has taken a severe beating in the wake of unrest over a series of sacrilege incidents across the state.
As part of the damage-control exercise, the SAD, which is drawing a huge criticism for poor law and order situation, has gone all out to mobilise people in the rural areas for the rally.
The importance of the rally for the Akalis can be gauged from the fact that deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the SAD president, personally visited the venue on Sunday to oversee the arrangements.
Sukhbir also held short meetings with senior police officials to discuss security arrangements at the venue.
As Malwa remains a nucleus of desecration incidents and farmer protests, senior SAD leaders said they have received clear-cut instructions from the party president to make Bathinda rally a grand success in order to rebuild party’s image at the ground level.
The SAD expects to have a gathering of one lakh people as MLAs, halqa in-charges, district presidents and circle in-charges of five districts-Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot and Muktsar- are directed to bring 10,000 people from their respective constituencies.
When asked whether Akali leaders were facing any problems in mobilising the crowd, Sukhbir said the people will come of their own as party leaders have managed to provide message about the basic aim of the rally - to spread peace and harmony.
“The rally is being organised to propagate peace and brotherhood. The event will be testimony to the fact that the people of Punjab want peace,” Sukhbir said.
“This is no test of the party. We don’t need to test ourselves. All we want is that people should maintain peace and harmony at all costs and join hands to fight against radical forces, which are propagating the Khalistan agenda,” added Sukhbir .
“Both Congress and radical forces were trying to bring back the dark days, but the people will give a firm message to such elements that Punjabis stand for peace and development,” the deputy chief minister asserted.
Fearing protests at the venue, the SAD has managed to ‘pacify’ the organisations that had planned to stage protests on the rally day.
The unemployed linemen union, which had been pressing for a meeting with either the chief minister or his deputy for the past several months, will be meeting Sukhbir on November 27.
Primal Singh, state president of the union, said they have postponed the plan to disrupt the rally following government’s assurance. “If nothing concrete comes out of the November 27 meeting, we will disrupt the SAD rally at Moga on November 28,” he said. Even the teachers’ union was told that its demands would be met shortly. However, farmer unions - that have declared to carry out protests at SAD functions - haven’t revealed plans for the Bathinda rally.
Keep tabs on men in black, cops told
To thwart black flag protests, police have been told to keep a close watch on people wearing black colour at the rally. Even Youth Akali Dal members have been asked to keep tabs on those wearing black turbans. Police have already made clear that those carrying black shawls and wearing black socks won’t be allowed to enter the venue.