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Mixed signals in Punjab elections

Amarinder's relegation at the rallies indicates the question of the CM's post is wide open, reports Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2007 22:49 IST

Mixed signals seemed to be emanating from the Congress camp as the campaigning entered the decisive stage with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi addressing two impressive election rallies in Jandiala Guru and Phagwara urging the people of Punjab to defeat divisive forces represented by the Akali Dal-BJP combine.

Although Ms Gandhi's meetings were certainly better organised than those of the Prime Minister during the past two days, the lack of planning and proper strategy on part of the state leadership was evident.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who is spearheading the campaign at the state level was made to sit in the second row with AICC office bearers and PCC Chief Shamsher Singh Dullo flanking Ms Gandhi in the front row on the dais. The Amritsar Lok Sabha seat candidate Surinder Singla was also seated at the back.

Amarinder Singh's relegation, which may have been totally unintentional, was interpreted in party circles as an indication by the leadership that the question of chief ministership was wide open and will be decided only after the results.

Party General Secretary Margaret Alva as reported by the local media in Gurdaspur on Tuesday andanother office bearer some days ago also gave this impression.

Satnam Singh Deol, a Youth Congress activist said, "in this election, the key to our success is the division of Jat Sikh vote and if the Jats get the feeling that Amarinder is not going to be there, they may opt for Akalis and tilt the scales heavily in their favour."

Another Congress leader said that Congress had adequate support amongst Hindus and Dalits and the support of Jat Sikhs was very important for the outcome. For the first time, there had been a rethink on their part and all these kind of signals are not helping matters.

"Even if they want to change Amarinder, they should not be unnecessarily spelling out that the decision would be taken after the polls. Things can be kept vague."

The Prime Minister's rallies too conveyed the feeling of mismanagement and Tuesday's show was so poorly organised in Ludhiana that a large section of the ground had no gathering. Though security concerns are being blamed for the fiasco, the organisation does not seem to have applied its mind to the fallout.

The PM's speech lacked poll fire and it was only on the second day that Dr Manmohan Singh paid some attention on the talking points and took the Akalis to task.

Ms Gandhi's speech made some relevant points but as compared to her opening speech in the 2002 polls it did not charge up the workers who with a little bit of push can easily help in breaking the 40-year-old jinx of Congress not returning to power after one term in office. A number of Congress workers in Jalandhar stated that Ms Gandhi was sparing her energy for the final assault on February 10 when she will address a meeting at Parkash Singh Badal's village and in Sirhind.

However, there were some good signals too.Ms Gandhi started her speech at Jandiala by paying obeisance to the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) to send a clear message to the Sikhs that she and her party had the highest respect for the most revered religious shrine. Dulloalso made it a point to mention that it was only during the Congress regime that a Sikh, General JJ Singh had been made the chief of Army staff. The Punjab CM carried the battle to the enemy camp by declaring that Baal was in deep trouble in Lambi and it will not come as a surprise to him if he loses.

The Congress camp is banking heavily on its strong position in Malwato retain the state. Its position in Doaba is virtually the same as last time and it could perhaps suffer some reverses in Majha where its performance had peaked in most areas.

First Published: Feb 07, 2007 20:40 IST