In the absence of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, younger leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal and Youth Akali Dal chief Bikram Singh Majithia took centrestage during the party's congregation at the Shaheedi Jor Mela here on Wednesday.
Senior party leaders Prem Singh Chandumajra, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia and Balwinder Singh Bhunder were quick to hail the leadership skills of Sukhbir and Majithia. Other Akali leaders, including Bibi Jagir Kaur, Sarwan Singh Phillaur and Hira Singh Gabria, were present on the dais, but they did not address the gathering. Badal was away to Gujarat on Wednesday for chief minister Narendra Modi's oath-taking ceremony.
In his address, Majithia said he could not tolerate the insult to his mother, referring to his heated exchange with Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh in the Vidhan Sabha last week.
Justifying Majithia's outburst in the House, Chandumajra said, "Majithia did indulge in abuse, and right now, abuses are enough for them (Congress). But if things worsen, we will wipe out the Congress from Punjab."
Chandumajra said the party had gained strength since Sukhbir's elevation as the president, even as he pointed out that the senior Badal was somewhat soft in dealing with the Opposition.
"It's after 8-10 years that the SAD congregation is witnessing such a massive gathering," he said, lauding Sukhbir's firm leadership.
Bhunder and Tota Singh hailed Majithia as the party's promising leader.
The fiery speeches were delivered in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The SAD traditionally holds its religio-political congregations in the presence of the holy book, unlike the Congress.
Sukhbir sticks to development
Sidestepping the Majithia issue, Sukhbir listed the Akali-BJP government's achievements during the 2007-12 regime, that had enabled the coalition to retain power in the January 30 assembly polls.
He said, "The Congress would be wiped out from Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections."
"The SAD, the second oldest party in the country, has always made sacrifices, whether it was during the freedom struggle or for people's rights. This party is not the personal property of any individual," said Sukhbir, who took over the reins of the SAD from his father Parkash Singh Badal in 2008.
Focusing on development, he said the SAD had implemented the atta-daal and shagun schemes, bicycles for girls and the pension scheme for elders and widows in the state. Sukhbir said chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had always stood for free power to farmers.
"List a single achievement of the Congress in this regard," he said.
Sukhbir said crime had declined drastically in the state during the past about six years of the Akali-BJP regime. "If 100 kg of heroin was seized during the five years of the Congress regime, we (SAD-BJP) seized 1,000 kg in 2 years," he claimed.
Later, at a press conference, he termed the Ludhiana incident, in which senior police officer SS Mand was thrashed, as "unfortunate". He said nobody would be allowed to take the law in his or her own hands.
He ruled out speculation that Congress MLA Joginder Pal Jain had joined the SAD "under pressure" as the latter faced criminal cases.