Akalis hold rally in ‘fortified’ Faridkot amid radicals’ protest
Beleaguered Badals try to blunt criticism following indictment by Ranjit panel and galvanise the party cadres
A day after the Punjab and Haryana high court allowed their rally despite the state government’s reservations, the embattled Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) held a show of strength” in Faridkot on Sunday even as the Sikh hardliners staged a protest despite heavy police deployment.
The rally, described by former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal as a “victory”, was held in the ‘fortified’ city amid tension. Thousands of policemen stood guard to provide safe passage to Akali leaders and their supporters and ward off trouble, but failed to stop 100-odd Sikh radicals belonging to the SAD (Amritsar) and the Dal Khalsa from sneaking in and damage two buses and one car.
The meeting was the second assembly of supporters held by the SAD to counter the nonstop onslaught mounted by the rival Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well as the radicals in the past one month. The Akalis are facing their worst political crisis in recent memory following the former chief minister’s indictment by the Ranjit Singh Commission, which looked into sacrilege cases and subsequent firing by cops on Sikh protesters in 2015, for the police action at Kotkapura. The radicals have been pointing the fingers at Badals, particularly former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, for the “pardon” granted to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in 2015. The former CM, who was maintaining a rather low profile since the party’s rout in the state polls, has been forced to come out to launch the counter-offensive to try and blunt the attack and lift the sagging morale of party cadres.
‘Conspiracy to kill me and Sukhbir’
Playing an emotional card, Badal said there was a threat to his and his son’s lives. “I and Sukhbir are ready to sacrifice our lives for defending the cause of peace and communal harmony in the state,” he told a 40,000-strong gathering of supporters from across the state. The former CM claimed he had been informed that Sikh radical had been nabbed with a pistol meant to assassinate him and his son at the rally, asking the police to reveal the identity of the person.
Badal also lashed out at chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and his cabinet colleagues, saying that they had endorsed the Operation Bluestar and the Sikh genocide in 1984 by accepting berths in the Congress government. Cautioning the people against the Sikh radicals, he said: “If people make mistakes, they have to bear the loss. Don’t follow them (Sikh radicals) because they have been holding secret meetings with the government.”
He accused Congress ministers Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa of going all-out to capture gurdwaras. “They know these institutions are the pillars of the Akali strength,” he said before winding up his speech.
Sukhbir slams parallel jathedars
Sukhbir, who also addressed the gathering, hit out at parallel jathedars sitting at Bargari protest, calling them “fake”. He said they knew that the success of this rally would be a big rally to their protest and blackmailed the chief minister to impose a ban on it. “The court restored the democracy in Punjab and it is a tight slap on the face of the Amarinder government,” he added.
He accused parallel Akal takht jathedar Dhian Singh Mand of accumulating money. “A land worth ₹30 lakh was registered in the name of Dhian Singh Mand in Ferozepur on September 11. I want to know from him from where this money is coming,” he said, alleged that they were “earning” ₹10 lakh a day through the Bargari protest.
The SAD chief also said the state machinery made attempts to stop the SAD workers from reaching Faridkot, but failed badly.
Former minister Bikram Singh Majithia lashed out at Sidhu, accusing him of disgracing the Sikhs by touching the feet of members of the Gandhi family.
“The bomb blasts at Maqsudan police station is just a hint towards the direction in which the state is going. We will have to fight for the communal harmony and peace in the state,” he said. Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder, rally organiser Parambans Singh Romana and BJP’s former state unit chief Rajinder Bhandari were also among those who addressed the gathering.