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Perception battle: Fearing SAD gain, Congress on offensive

MC polls: MLA goes live on Facebook over diluting charges against Akali leaders.

punjab Updated: Dec 12, 2017 09:31 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Shiromani Akali Dal,Congress,Sukhbir Badal
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal (centre) met the governor at Punjab Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh on Monday.

When Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal along with party leaders laid siege to the Harike bridge, his pictures of braving the chill may not have evoked public sympathy.

But the party's strategy to show the alleged high-handedness of the ruling Congress in the municipal polls and put it on the backfoot seemed to have worked.

The dharnas held across the state by Akalis in protest against the alleged attack by Congress activists on its workers at Ferozepur’s Mallanwala sent the government in a tizzy. It resorted to the ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach.A public interest litigation (PIL) in the Punjab and Haryana high court was filed and taken up the same day.

By 2.15pm on Friday, the HC hadruled that any dharna, meeting or congregation held by any political party without prior approval of the deputy commissioner of the district concerned shall not be permitted keeping in view the ensuing municipal elections. Punjab advocate general Atul Nanda made a statement on the basis of information received from director general of police (DGP, intelligence) Dinkar Gupta that he does not dispute that the situation is "grave because of the ensuing MC polls".

On Friday evening, Sukhbir too called off party's “indefinite” dharnas saying most of his demands, including the arrest of Congress workers involved in the attack and removal of Section 307 (attempt to murder) against his close aides Ferozepur SAD chief Avtar Singh Minna and Vardev Singh Mann besides 90 Akali workers, were met.

A team of officials led by Ferozepur range DIG Rajinder Singh had met Sukhbir at the dharna site and told him that investigation had been handed over to the bureau of investigation at Chandigarh. The Zira deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and the Mallanwala station house officer (SHO) too were transferred.

But Zira MLA Kulbir Singh, who the Akalis accused of engineering the attacks, dug in his heels. He went live on Facebook to narrate the sequence of events, accusing Akali leaders of resorting to "unprovoked violence and arm-twisting the administration out of fear of losing face in the polls". He also met Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, DGP Suresh Arora and demanded that Akalis not be spared by diluting charges. Soon, other Congress MLAs too rallied behind him, saying the government's soft-pedelling was giving Akali Dal an edge in public perception.

A firebrand like his father, Inderjit Singh Zira, a former Akali minister, Kulbir says his assembly segment has been an Akali bastion and SAD leaders like Mann and Minna have been running roughshod over Congressmen when in power. "If they are able to demoralise Congress workers even now when we are in power, what hope have we left? The video clearly shows them carrying arms and firing. I would go to the HC if charges against them are diluted," he says. Faridkot MLA Kushaldeep Dhillon seconds him. "The Akalis too unleashed the state force on us when in power.Now, they are panicky as their popularity has further eroded. Sukhbir is looking for an escape route," he says.

The diluting of charges against Akalis evoked strong resentment among other Congress MLAs too who said it would demoralise their own cadres. "In power, a party cannot afford to look weak," one of them said, requesting anonymity.

Though the government has also booked Sukhbir, Akali MLAs, MPs, former ministers and party workers , the SAD chief remains defiant. On Sunday, Amarinder took to Twitter to warn him against dharna politics and Jakhar held a press conference to claim the attempt to murder charges against Akalis remain. But in the perception battle, Sukhbir has been able to take some of the sheen off a likely Congress victory in MC polls which may anyway result from 'ruling party wins MC polls' syndrome.

First Published: Dec 12, 2017 09:19 IST