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Historical Chhapar Mela turns into political battleground: Political parties spar, allegations fly thick and fast

At the ruling Congress’ rally, blaming the SAD-BJP regime for bringing “economic terrorism” during its tenure in Punjab, local bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said, “The name of Badals’ family would be inscribed in black letters on the pages of history as it has indulged in loot of Punjab and its people.”

punjab Updated: Sep 07, 2017 11:33 IST
Chhapar Mela,political battleground,Punjab Congress
Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu addressing the Congress rally during the Chhapar fair near Ludhiana on Wednesday. (HT Photo)

The historical Chhapar Mela turned into political battleground yet again as all major political parties staged conferences here on Wednesday, and took jibes at each other.

At the ruling Congress’ rally, blaming the SAD-BJP regime for bringing “economic terrorism” during its tenure in Punjab, local bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said, “The name of Badals’ family would be inscribed in black letters on the pages of history as it has indulged in loot of Punjab and its people.”

Sidhu’s takes ‘if’ dig again

Following up on his earlier statements on the lines of ‘if I had this departement...’, he said, “If I get the police department, I will ensure action against the leaders who ruined Punjab.”

Observers have in the past interpreted these as veiled attacks on the chief minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, who in this case hold the home affairs portfolio under which falls the police department. He was not at the rally.

Calling the Jabar Virodhi Lehar (anti-repression drive) of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) a political drama, Sidhu said, “Those who indulged in cruelties and excesses cannot accuse the government elected by the people of the same things now.” He further said that the Bargari incident (of sacrilege and the subsequent police firing at protesters and the murder of a Dalit man in Abohar (in which a former SAD leader is accused), and other incidents took place during the SAD-BJP regime. “Besides this, the drug trade patronised by the previous regime took heavy toll on. Also, more than 7,000 farmers committed suicide,” he declared.

SAD chief Sukhbir Badal (eentre) listens in to senior leader Maheshinder Grewal as BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia looks on. (HT Photo)

Sidhu also announced a grant of Rs 20 lakh by the state government for the development works in the village, Chhapar.

Finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal also addressed the rally and said, “Misgovernance during the past 10 years has left Punjab reeling under a debt of Rs 3.5 lakh crore today... Debt of farmers will be waived off in future for which the chief minister is making strenuous efforts.”

Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, in his address, said the party would payback the gratitude of every single vote by the people of Punjab. Lok Sabha MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, while listing out achievements of the present government in its short tenure since March, appealed to the people to “give a little more time to the government to deliver fully”.

Captain has halted development: Sukhbir

At the SAD rally, party president and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal alleged that CM Amarinder Singh has stopped all developmental projects started by the previous regime. “We used to provide bicycles to girls; we used to provide sports equipments to the youth and built sport parks in the villages. Sewerage works of Rs 200 crore started by us in several towns has been halted. Even ongoing road work has been stopped,” he said.

He added that Amarinder, Manpreet and Sidhu are befooling people by promising them loan waiver scheme and some “so-called rozgar (job) schemes”.

“The state-sponsored job fairs were a flop because the government failed to create norms for recruiting technically qualified students. Students who had been promised jobs through these fairs feel cheated and betrayed,” he alleged.

Later, speaking with HT, he also mentioned that an indoor stadium built at Rs 85 crore on Pakhowal Road in Ludhiana has “turned into a white elephant, because the Congress government has failed to make the proper use of the facility provided by Akali Dal”. “Ehna ne ta lock laa ’ta stadium nu. (They have locked the stadium),” he said.

Also accusing the Captain government of running “sand mafia”, Sukhbir claimed the prices of sand have increased by four times since the Congress came to power: “When we were in power, the rate of one trolley full of sand cost Rs 10,000, which is now Rs 40,000.”

He also took a dig at the CM’s absence: “Many rallies have been held since the Congress came into power, but Captain is not present.”

Bhagwant fires at both Cong, SAD-BJP

At the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rally, taking a jibe at the former SAD-BJP government, state unit chief and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, said, “The Akalis boasted that they would rule the state for 25 years, but they could not even secure 25 seats in the assembly elections.”

The SAD-BJP was reduced to the third spot this time, with 18 seats, while the AAP got 20 and its ally Lok Insaaf Party got two too.

He also accused Amarinder Singh of betraying the people of the state. “He has not delivered on even a single promise till now. Fearing a conflict amongst its leaders, the Congress has not even announced ministers for agriculture and sports,” said Mann.

(From right) At the AAP rally, senior leader HS Phoolka and state unit chief Bhagwant Mann with others. (HT Photo)

He also said the Congress government had backtracked on its promise of complete waiver of farm debt, “as a result, there is a spurt in farmers’ suicides”.

While the speakers before him did not bolster the mood, comic-turned-politician Mann used taunts and jibes to rouse the gathering, metres from the SAD stage.

Alluding to Sukhbir, Mann said, “Aj ae chann nu rasta na bana dave. (I wonder if he might claim to build a road to the moon today). Ae sirf gappan de pull bannana janda hai (He only knows how to build castles in the air).”

Interestingly, the gathering at the SAD rally was huge as compared to the AAP rally, but the crowds swelled as Mann reached the stage.

LIP MLA Balwinder Singh Bains, in his speech, accused the Congress and SAD-BJP of looting resources, particularly water, and demanded implementation of the Vidhan Sabha resolution for recovering royalty of water amounting to a Rs 16 lakh crore from Rajasthan and other states.

First Published: Sep 07, 2017 11:32 IST