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Barrage of rallies in Punjab much before arrival of elections

Chandigarh: It may not be election time in Punjab, but the state is witnessing a spate of political rallies as major parties in the state are already in a poll mode.

The lead has been taken by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which announced ‘Sadbhawna rallies’ in Bathinda, Moga, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib and a ‘mega rally’ in Patiala.

The Akali Dal’s alliance partner, BJP, which was exploring options to go solo in the next assembly polls in the state, has done a re-think after the recent Bihar poll results and has joined the Akali Dal in the rallies.

The Akali Dal was forced to hold the rallies to avoid eroding its traditional vote bank of farmers and people in rural areas after recent incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib led to protests and violence and radical Sikh elements and organizations were able to cash in on the situation and blame the Parkash Singh Badal government for not restoring order.

The opposition Congress, which had been grappling with its internal power struggle and factionalism in the past one year, is also setting itself for a course correction with former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh being finally made the state unit president.

The big showdown between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress is slated for December 15 when the Congress organises its first big rally in Bathinda town where Amarinder Singh will formally take over as the state Congress president.

Akali Dal president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced that the party will hold its biggest rally on the same day in front of the Moti Bagh Palace of Amarinder Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Patiala).

The Congress chose Bathinda for Amarinder’s coronation after Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal recently challenged its leadership to hold a rally at the same ground where the Akali Dal organised its first ‘Sadbhawna rally’ on Nov 23.

Bathinda is the Lok Sabha constituency of Sukhbir Badal’s wife, union minister Harsimrat Badal.

“We will hold a big, historic rally in Bathinda which will be attended by all Congress leaders. People will join the rally on their own, unlike the Akalis who misused government machinery for their rally,” Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said.

After the Bathinda rally, the Congress is likely to plan more rallies in coming days.

Not the one to be left behind, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has four Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab, is making its presence felt with its own series of meetings across the state. The AAP has announced that its leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will camp in Punjab some time next year to strengthen the party’s base.

The AAP is preparing itself to be the third major force in the state. The party knows that it has a substantial vote bank of people who are disenchanted with the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress.

Elections to Punjab’s 117-member assembly will be held in Feb-March 2017.

(Jaideep Sarin, IANS)

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