Punjab goes the Bihar way
Jr Badal unleashes violence and Sr Badal Intervenes to sort things out
NIRUPAMA DUTT | Issue Dated: May 25, 2008
When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), alliance partner of the ruling Akali Dal Government, decided to pitch its candidates against Akali candidates in the grassroot Panchayat Samiti elections, Sukhbir Badal, President of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), described it as ‘a friendly match’.
But the supposedly ‘friendly match’ turned into a bitter battle with Punjab doing an unmistakable Bihar as small towns and rural areas saw unprecedented poll violence on Monday’s voting for 141 Panchayat Samitis and Zila Parishads. These high-stake elections were supposed to be the test for Sukhbir Badal and his supporters, who unleashed blows, lathis, bullets and set ablaze vehicles of the opponents including that of their own alliance partner.
The first leg of the polling day witnessed a Congress worker being brutally killed while at least 50 others were injured in different incidents of violence in the Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran districts.
At Tarn Taran, Akali MLA Harmeet Singh Sandhu fired at BJP MLA Anil Joshi, which led to an open clash. SAD workers set ablaze 10 vehicles including Joshi’s new Ford Endeavour.
Emboldened by the tacit support of the police and the administration, Akali Dal workers attacked BJP men at almost all the places where nominees of the two parties were in confrontation. Booth capturing by SAD workers was the order of the day. Violence erupted at all centres.
The next day saw the backlash. BJP workers marched out in protest at Bathinda, home ground of the Badals, and in a fit of rage, damaged two Orbit buses owned by the Badal family. The leadership of the Punjab unit of the BJP convened an emergency meeting of the “Core Committee” to take stock of the situation. The party’s leader in the State Assembly and Minister for Local Bodies, Manoranjan Kalia, talking to reporters at Bathinda, did not rule out withdrawing support to the Akali Dal.
This led Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President Rajinder Kaur Bhattal to demand imposition of President’s rule.
Amidst all this, the Akali Dal maintained a stoic silence and Sukhbir Badal, feigning innocence, in Delhi said that he had no idea of what was happening in Punjab. If these elections were a testing ground for him, he failed miserably, bringing the state’s democratic processes to an all-time low and his father, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, had to step in for damage control.
He seems to have succeeded because after a four-hour long discussion with the chief minister, the Punjab BJP spokesman Balbir Punj said, “The SAD-BJP alliance is the oldest. It is still as strong as in the past.”
As part of the damage control, the chief minister has ordered a probe into the Tarn Taran violence and has suspended the Superintendent of Police and Deputy Superintendent of Police there for the attack on Anil Joshi.
Yet another probe has been ordered into the clashes in Bathinda where BJP workers were beaten up. However, tempers are still running high. The events have cast a shadow on the Amritsar by-election to be held later this month and would require the intervention of the Election Commission of India. It may also not be so easy for Jr Badal to get the reigns of power from his father because he has to go a long way and re-learn the meaning of ‘a friendly match.’