Tuesday, February 12, 2002, Chandigarh, India


P U N J A B    S T O R I E S



Cine stars draw big crowds
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
Overcast sky and intermittent showers notwithstanding, stars from the tinsel world kept date with their respective political parties and candidates as they undertook a hurricane tour of various constituencies to “seek vote and support” for them.

If “Chotey Mian” Govinda did it for the Congress, “dream girl” Hema Malini was out to campaign for the SAD-BJP alliance. While Preity Zinta and Kunal Goswami came out to lend support to their friend Arvind Khanna at Sangrur, Nagma, Divya Dutta and Mink turned up for a rebel Congress candidate at Abohar.

Others in the electioneering arena were Poonam Dhillon and cine star-turned-politician Vinod Khanna.

Interestingly, the inclement weather was a non-dampener as Bollywood stars proved that they were big crowd pullers. For example, when Govinda performed and campaigned at Ludhiana last night, the turnout was massive.

The same was true for Hema Malini as she struck an emotional chord with her audiences at Sahnewal, the second home town of her star husband Dharmendra, Doraha and old Ludhiana city, claiming herself to the Bahu of Punjab out to seek votes for the SAD-BJP alliance, which she claimed did a good job.

“In five to 10 years from now, there will be no need for Punjabi youth to go abroad, especially to the USA and Canada, as Punjab, if it continues at the same pace as for the past five years, it would be equal if not better than them,” she sad, maintaining that there has been a sea change in the state she saw 10 years ago and now.

“I thought only Dharmendra was the lion of Punjab. But here I am told that Mr Satpal Gosain is the lion of politics,” she said before repeating her popular dialogue from Sholay of “Dhanno, it is the prestige of the ‘bahu’ of Punjab at stake', so please vote for the alliance,” she said before leaving for her next destination, Jalandhar.

At Sahnewal, she said that even Dharmendra wanted to come, but because of his commitments, he could not make it. The “dream girl”, looking younger than her age and sporting a printed suit, was presented a shawl and sword of honour at both Sahnewal and Ludhiana city as she dabbled into speaking Punjabi successfully. She shouted “Bole so Nihal and Sat Sri Akal” at the end of her brief addresses in a true Punjabi style.

Poonam Dhillon was a great crowd puller both at Jalandhar and Sultanpur Lodhi. She claimed that the “secular ideology and sacrifices made by Congressmen” had attracted her to this party.

VARINDER SINGH writes from JALANDHAR: Hema Malini played ‘saviour’ for the BJP by addressing a poll rally at Pratap Bag this evening. Showering praises on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the NDA government for handling the vexed Kashmir issue in an exemplary manner, she said that “Atalji was the best PM India ever had.”

Continuing praise of the BJP, she said that it was this party which brought prosperity and allround development to Punjab. Though I am from South but I am 'bahu' of Punjab and come here to demand something from you — vote and support for the SAD-BJP alliance, ” she said.

VARINDER WALIA writes from AMRITSAR: The BJP leadership was slightly embarrassed as Hema Malini reached here minutes ater the campaigning had come to an end. She was not allowed to the election rally to the grea disappointment of a crowd that had assembled and waited for her for more than five hours.

She was not even allowed to come out and "wave" to her fans as the district authorities insisted that no campaigning could be allowed after 5 p.m. The BJP leaders alleged that Hema Malini was stopped on her way from reaching the venue of the rally by the police which delayed her further.

The BJP leadership decided to lodge a protest against the senior police officers as Hema Malini made her ay to Rajasansi airport to board a flight. the BJP supporters raised anti-police slogans.

RAJ SADOSH writes from ABOHAR: Unruly scenes marred the performance by Nagma, Divya Dutta and Mink who came here in support of a rebel Congress candidate here this afternoon. The Bollywood stars arrived shortly after 3.30 p.m., almost 150 minutes behind schedule. The police had to resort to mild use of its force to control the unruly mob.

Five film stars — Poonam Dhillon, Shakti Kapoor, Asrani, Anu Malik and Ruby Bhatia — were here to campaign for Congress candidate.


Rainy end to election din
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, February 11
An overcast sky in the morning and intermittent showers that continued unabated till late at night hastened electioneering to an end hours before its scheduled time, forcing many candidates to “abandon” their last-minute rallies and corner meetings.

But the SAD-BJP candidates from this district were lucky as the dream girl of Indian cinema, Hema Malini, claiming herself to be the “Bahu” of Punjab went through her whirlwind tour of the district. She made brief appearances at election rallies in Sahnewal, the village where her husband Dharmendra spent his youth, and the adjoining Doraha, besides one in the old Ludhiana city before driving off to Jalandhar.

Minutes after she left Ludhiana, it started raining, leaving various political parties and their candidates clueless as the rain forced people indoors, leaving the streets and bazaars deserted.

At a number of places in Ludhiana, Fatehgarh and Ropar districts, The Tribune team found the election offices of various candidates deserted, with a handful of hardcore workers and supporters wrapped in blankets, sitting huddled together.

And by the evening as the weather turned chilly and wet, the queue of vehicles used for campaigning throughout for the past 15 days started queuing up outside these election offices of the contestants, waiting for instructions for the programme for the next two days.

In fact, many candidates had planned late afternoon rallies in their endeavour to woo the voters into their fold. But God’s will was otherwise. They say that rain is a good omen, but it was not so for the candidates and their parties who had to abandon their programmes of the second half of the day. The rain played spoilsport. At some places, though, the candidates went ahead with their scheduled meetings and rallies, but the turnout was naturally thin.

The inclement weather also disrupted the travel plans of some party leaders. It forced the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Capt Amarinder Singh, to abandon his helicopter at Zirakpur and drive to Chandigarh in a car to address a Press conference and drive back to Patiala.

Some other political leaders and cine stars, too, could not honour their commitments because of the forced cancellation of their flights.

The rain also affected vehicular movement, reducing visibility and speed. And since most of the rallies, corner meetings and conferences were planned either in the open or under shamianas, the rain, which was moderate to heavy, wrecked havoc. The only alternative left for the candidates was to resort to door-to-door canvassing or holding small meetings inside the houses of their supporters and workers to win over the fence sitters.


Another tryst with political destiny
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
In February, five years ago, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, had ‘poll vaulted’ to political heights, achieving a massive, popular mandate to head the SAD-BJP coalition.

Today, he is trying hard to retain that record and guard his citadel, fighting a ballot war against the onslaught of the traditional political foe, the Congress. Even the Panthic Morcha has trained its guns at him.

One finds Mr Badal a “loner”, in his special vehicle, as much as Capt Amarinder Singh “aloof”, copter-hopping across the state.

Punjab goes to the polls at a time when Indian and Pakistan armies stand mobilised, cross-border tensions run high, border villages are in turmoil and an uncertain and an uncomfortable political future awaits.

In elections, nothing is ever what it seems. This includes poll surveys and predictions. An incredible nervousness, heightened by tidings of discomfort caused by the rebels, makes the official progenies of the two poll allies, the Akali-BJP and Congress-CPI, get on each others’ nerves in several constituencies.

In the present elections, political decency, the hallmark of democracy, has been lost with lethal campaign weapons used to inflict not just political injury but also personalised cuts and bruises. From the sluggish start, the most salient moment in the campaign came when the ruling party leadership was splashed with vitriol by the Congress ad-blitzkrieg, turning politics into a bad joke. Ostensibly, the former also reacted, ‘tit-for-tat’, against the negative campaign, thereby inducing a “negative vote” election.

There has been lack of serious political debates on meaningful economic issues. Instead, political parties capitalised on the media (print and electronic) for their smear campaigns and, in return, the media catapulted their campaigns to a new hype, divorced from reality, showing the last throes of parties desperate to capture power. The question, whose side the voter is on, will be answered tomorrow.

Either by serendipity or intent, the voter is for a ‘change’— as much a catch word as ‘corruption’.

The campaign trails and factors at play make it clear that seeking votes has been a punishing game. Another aspect that stands out is free and readily available liquor and drugs. This has neither caught the attention of the Election Commission nor pricked the conscience of parties.

The election scenario is without any positive surge. The “moods and trends” of the constituents have varied from constituency to constituency, depending as much on the candidate and his political credentials as the shrillness of the campaign. The voter, by keeping his eyes and ears open, mouth shut and fingers crossed, has added to the anxiety of the contestants and analysts.

A political forecast is hazardous. A safer bet is to speak about people’s perception. The people see a “slender edge” for either of the two combines, the Akalis and Congress. They also do not completely rule out a “hung” Assembly, meaning Independents and others will have a part in government formation. They also talk of the “impetus” the media campaign has given to the Congress. At the same time, they do not miss out on “performance” and “work” done by the Akalis even as they point a finger at “corruption”, knowing well no political outfit is lily white. On both sides, some stains always stick. The people also know that the post-election scenario will unfold more political content, turns and twists. But will these people vote decisively, maturely and logically?

The “faulty” distribution of ticket goes as much against the Akalis as the Congress. By submerging a political party into a ‘single entity’, the Akalis have themselves to blame for leadership vacuum.

Given his physical handicap, Mr Badal has done his best. Insofar as the Congress is concerned, the fault-lines and fissures created by “ticket-less” party men, abetted by divisions among the party’s top leaders, have made things difficult for the Captain. Yet, undeterred, he has determinedly ploughed a lonely political furrow in the campaign fields. The people’s perception is the Congress will suffer more haemorrhage than external injuries the Akalis, the BSP and Independents may cause.

In this election, there are more new faces, more first-timers, more rebels, more women, more kith and kin, more money and more muscle power.

With the sound and fury that has been built around “corruption” and “anti-incumbency”, will words like “performance” and “development” be heard, heeded and rewarded? Will personalised ad-attacks cut ice with voters? The campaign trails even lead to the courts.

Despite hyped campaigns, Mr Badal remains optimistic that peasantry and rural voter will rise as one to vote for the Akalis and the work done by his government will not go totally unrewarded.

Capt Amarinder Singh is equally confident of conquering the Akali citadel on the wings of charges of corruption.

In this election, a new kind of political vindictiveness, bitterness, tension and traces of violence has emerged. Though the Punjab poll milieu is different from many other states, surprisingly, the Election Commission has been frowning suspiciously at Punjab’s administrative machinery. Punjab elections may be highly politicised but these are not criminalised.

The response to the election rallies of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, Mr L. K. Advani etc. was lukewarm. Their speeches failed to carry conviction, despite invoking “political stability, trans-border terrorism, Hindu-Sikh unity and friendly equation with New Delhi that enabled Punjab to initiate development projects”. Contrast this with the visits of the Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi. Her rallies were well-attended. The people responded and watched her body language and compared her appearance and performance with her 1997 campaign-style.

Her short, sharp and acerbic comments raised lot of heat and controversy and went down well with the audience. But then how much do such political rallies help or participation of film stars influence voting behaviour? Punjab has yet another tryst with political destiny on February 13. 


PCC chief traditionally becomes CM: Natwar
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
Without giving a straight reply to who would be Chief Minister of Punjab if the Congress is voted to power, Mr Natwar Singh, Member of the Working Committee of the All India Congress Committee, said here today there had been tradition in the party to make the President of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) concerned as Chief Minister.

This tradition had been followed in Karnataka, Assam, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and certain other states where the Congress won elections in recent years. The obvious meaning of Mr Natwar Singh’s observation has been that Capt Amarinder Singh would be Chief Minister if the party got the majority in the state Assembly.

To the question as to why the Congress has not projected Capt Amarinder Singh, who is a President of the PPCC, as Chief Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, said that the Congress had stopped projecting anyone as Chief Minister before or during the elections.

On the direction of the President of the AICC, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) would be elected in the presence of the observers appointed by the high command after the election results, he informed.

Capt Amarinder Singh, who was also present at the conference held in the local Chandigarh Club, said he had been assigned to make the Congress in Punjab fighting fit and to raise the morale of its rank and file that was feeling demoralised following the setback it suffered in the last Vidhan Sabha elections.

“I feel that I have performed the task successfully,” he added, claiming that the Congress would win between 70 and 80 seats in the current Assembly elections for which polling is to be held on February 13.

When asked whether the Congress would take the support of any elected rebel Congress candidate in case of a hung Assembly, Capt Amarinder Singh said there was no question of accepting any rebel back in the party. “Last time, certain rebels were taken back in the party and it was a mistake to do so,” he asserted.

He released a few photographs to media persons, claiming that it was a part of a “documentary proof” of the property of Mr Parkash Singh Badal and his family collected by the Congress. One photograph was that of a resort in Gurgaon and another of a farmhouse and a lift irrigation channel near Sirsa.

Mr R.S. Malik, former Secretary Industries, Haryana, who had dealt with the resort case, was also present. He said that the plot measuring 17.78 acres was allotted to the Badals without following the proper procedure for Rs 2.5 crore. As the money was to paid in instalments by charging some interest on it, the total amount came to be Rs 5 crore. Its present worth was near Rs 1,000 crore, he added.

Capt Amarinder Singh said the Congress would fulfil its promise of appointing a judicial commission to probe the property amassed by certain Akali ministers, officers and others who were close to the SAD-BJP government. This was the only way to stamp out corruption from the state.

Replying to charges levelled against him with regard to a bank loan, Capt Amarinder Singh said he had started a mushroom plant for export, but it could not take off because of competition from China and other countries. He said that there was a dispute with one of the four banks regarding devaluation of money, etc. The case in this regard is pending in the Himachal Pradesh High Court. “Whatever is the decision of the court, I would accept that,” he added.

“Our campaign was two-pronged. The first part was to expose the Badal government and second to tell people what the Congress wanted to do for people of Punjab,” he added. Mr Badal had not accepted the invitation for a debate on issues pertaining to Punjab on a common public platform, he said.

He reiterated his stand on the SYL canal, Lok Pal and certain other issues.


Codes evolved for drug flow
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Kila Raipur, February 11
Thanks to the Assembly elections in Punjab, the supply of drugs is touching an all-time high in the rural belt. To ensure the smooth distribution of drugs, a whole new set of vocabulary is doing rounds of the villages, especially those comprising the Kila Raipur constituency.

Both the suppliers and consumers of drugs in most villages of this segment have evolved their own code language to convey things related to the demand and supply of drugs. No wonder bhooki or doda (opium extracts) are now finding takers even among the children of these villages. So foolproof is their code system that unless there is a local villager to interpret it for you, you would not know what it implies. For the past fortnight, the residents, especially youth and children of Kila Raipur have been referring to chamcha (the spoon) in a context different than known. Similar is the case with jahaaz (the ship), which is understood to mean much more than what it does in the literal context. While jahaaz is used to refer to the drug stock which arrives in the village, chamcha refers to a certain quantity of the same.

To inform each other about the arrival of drugs, the youth normally shout: “Jahaaz khadaya hai.” If the supply has been brought near the river, they shout, “Nehar te jahaaz khadya hai.” Here jahaaz refers to bhooki or doda, which are being frequently supplied in Ballewal, Dheipee, Narangwal, Lohgarh, Gujjarwal and Siarh villages of Kila Raipur. As the message spreads, young boys, coupled with children as young as nine years, rush to the river (or wherever) to lift the packs.

On a visit to the villages of Kila Raipur, many young boys confirmed to this correspondent that despite intense lobbying by anti-drug agencies and an apparent effort by the police to prevent drug menace, the flow of drugs is continuing unabated. They also talked about being a part of the whole system, adding that doda was highly relished by them.

They added that rural youth refer to doda as chamcha. During one election speech in Jodhan, a village youth was heard telling another, “Aaj taan koin chamcha vi nai aaya. Ki faayda?” On being asked what a chamcha was, he replied, “Chamche da matlab maal. Ik chamcha matlab pisa hoya doda da ik fak. (Chamcha means drug stock. One chamcha means one spoonful of powdered doda.)

On the condition of anonymity, youngsters talk about the modus operandi of drug suppliers in the area. Said a 23-year-old Ballewal resident, “The suppliers bring drug stock on a single day in the week. The day keeps changing every week. Information about the day of their arrival comes from secret sources in the village. The suppliers come in groups, each comprising about three men. They are armed with gandaasas and are riding brand new scooters without number plates.”

Nahar Singh, a 60-year-old villager, was a witness to one of these supplies. He said, “They were armed with sharp-edged weapons. They were carrying two sacks. Sometimes when they see the police around they throw away the sacks and flee. Sometime, however, they even challenge the police personnel saying: “Kar le ki karna ae. Asi taan challe haan (Do what you can; we are going).”

According to information received, normally the suppliers bring a stock of 40 kg in one trip. Dodas are sold at the rate of Rs 450 to 500 per kg. These days, however, they are given free of charge on account of elections. Informed a youngster, “They also bring teacups full of dodas. Each such cup costs only Rs 50. They may or may not charge money. It depends on their mood.” A shopkeeper in the area informed that it is a wide network, “Many a time the suppliers enter into deals with politicians. They receive about Rs 10,000 to throw sacks of drugs in 10 villages.”

Elder villagers of the area complain that the police does nothing to nab the culprits. Said a 65-year-old villager, “Even if you tell them that a supply is going to be delivered, they don’t pay heed.” Meanwhile, the police personnel of Dehlon police post, when questioned in this connection, replied, “We put up three to four barricades daily to prevent supply of drugs in these villages. We have no information about any supplies yet.” It may, however, be mentioned here that illicit liquor has already caused about four deaths in the region.


Bars’ spring up ahead of polling
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, February 11
Punjabis do not need much of an excuse to open a bottle, but the sudden chill in the weather following a drizzle and an impending dry day tomorrow has resulted in bars sprouting in constituencies of the district even as the heady stuff is being stockpiled to give a befitting finale to the election campaign.

Except for the Patiala constituency where liquor is not seen because the PPCC President, Capt Amarinder Singh, is expected to have an easy time at the hustings, political managers of other candidates in the constituency are not taking any risk as far as liquor is concerned.

So one sees “Eveready” whiskey being distributed in the Rajpura constituency since the past few days. “We can discern the whiskey by the bad odour it emanates”, says a voter, adding that rural voters are being supplied whiskey to ensure that they do not turn against any candidate. “We know all people who drink at our counters will not vote for us”, says a manager of a party. “We are expected to distribute liquor or else all these people will accuse us of being miserly and not serious about the election,” he added.

The position is even worse in the nearby Dakala constituency. A candidate in the fray had opened up a virtual bar in a cold storage on the outskirts of the city to keep voters in good humour. This had resulted in a virtual rush on the road opposite the cold storage with farmers arriving in tractor-trailers to imbibe the “good stuff”. A dhaba owner nearby said voters were allowed to drink as much as they wanted inside the cold storage. Those wanting to take a bottle home were asked to pay a discounted price of Rs 30 per bottle, he added.

Even in Patiala city liquor is being stored in safe residences for distribution tomorrow, if needed. The Tribune team saw two Tata Sumo vehicles offloading liquor crates into a house in Sheranwala Gate the area which is otherwise secluded as it faces a drain. When a Tribune photographer clicked a snap of the men carrying the liquor crates into the house, they demanded that he hand over the roll. The men said the liquor belonged to a prominent politician contesting the poll from a neighbouring constituency and let go off the photographer only when he promised the photograph would not be published.

Witnessing a few election rallies in the Samana and the Ghanaur constituencies today, one came face to face with young enthusiastic men shouting in favour of their respective candidates even as they were sozzled to the brim. Most of the workers who were in the thick of campaigning were smelling of liquor belying hopes that youngsters would keep away from liquor due to intensive campaigns against the intoxicant by social welfare organisations.

Candidates who have part of their constituents residing in urban areas in contrast to the completely rural constituencies are having a more difficult time. “The urban voter expects better quality liquor compared to the rural voter who gets country-made liquor with fancy labels on it”, he added. Sources said though liquor was being distributed since the past few days in most constituencies in the district, its distribution was likely to be increased tomorrow.

The politcal managers, however, say only the naive will be approaching liquor shops to get liquor on the sly as most candidates have stocked their bars to the brim to take on the dry day restrictions coming in force.


Badal’s appointments challenged
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
If allegations in a writ petition filed before a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court are to be believed, Punjab’s Chief Minister was allegedly involved in the appointment of at least 18 candidates, as milk procurement assistants, from Lambi and Gidderbaha constituencies.

Taking up the petition filed by two residents of Muktsar district seeking the setting aside of the selections and appointments, Mr Justice R.L. Anand and Mr Justice Amar Dutt of the High Court issued notice of motion for July 25. In his detailed order, the Judges observed: “Counsel for the petitioners submits that the majority of private respondents are not qualified and hail from Lambi and Gidderbaha constituencies. Moreover, the Chief Minister represents Lambi and is again contesting the elections from the same constituency which is adjacent to Gidderbaha. It is further alleged that Gidderbaha is represented by Manpreet Singh Badal, a nephew of the Chief Minister. Issue notice of motion for July 25”.

Describing the entire process as “farce”, Gurmeet Singh and Jagjit Singh had claimed that the selection was mala fide. They contended that the Chief Minister and his nephew had exercised influence over the selection committee and “got their own people selected and appointed as milk procurement assistants”. Giving details, they had added that out of total 19 candidates appointed, 15 were from Lambi, three from Gidderbaha and one from Muktsar district. Their counsel had claimed that the petitioners were ignored even though they had experience and possessed the qualifications prescribed in the advertisement.


Notices to Punjab, CBI on PUNWIRE staff plea

New Delhi, February 11
The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Punjab Government and the CBI on a special leave petition against the Punjab and Haryana High Court order dismissing a writ petition seeking a CBI probe into alleged embezzlement of Rs 500 crore of Punjab Wireless Systems Ltd (PUNWIRE).

The notices were issued by a Bench comprising Mr Justice N.B. Shah and Mr Justice B.N. Agrawal on the petition filed by the employees union of the company.

It was stated in the petition that various FIRs lodged with the police in this regard were not properly investigated, compelling the union to knock at the doors of the High Court.

The High Court declined to direct the CBI to investigate the alleged embezzlement and punish the culprits.

The union alleged in the petition that politicians and officers of the company had connived to misappropriate the funds rendering the company bankrupt to an extent that the employees had not been paid their salary since 1999. UNI


Give decisive verdict, appeals Badal
Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Lambi/Gidderbaha, February 11
Punjab Chief Minister and President, SAD, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, today urged the people to give a decisive verdict of the SAD-BJP alliance so that its people-oriented government could deliver the goods in an effective manner.

In an emotionally charged speech, Mr Badal, who wound up the election campaign formally with a mammoth rally here, said if though a freak result, the Congress managed to snatch the reigns of administration in the state, it would prove disastrous for farmers, arhtiyas, traders and farm labourers, in particular. He said that for five years, the Congress opposed his government’s policies on free power and irrigation to farmers, shagan schemes for Dalits and abolition of house taxes and octroi in the state. But now, it had begun to promise that it would continue with these policies. If the Congress was voted to power, almost the first decision would be to abolish free power and other benefits to the people of the state.

Earlier, Mr Badal addressed a huge gathering at his native constituency, Lambi, where a sea of humanity turned out to listen to him despite the inclement weather.

He said the Congress leaders were speaking in two voices over the issues of river waters and SYL. While Capt Amarinder Singh had been blaming the Akalis for the construction of the SYL, which was inaugurated by Mrs Indira Gandhi, Mr Moti Lal Vora had said the Congress would construct the canal if voted to power. Even the Congress manifesto, he said, clearly stated that the party would implement the Supreme Court order on SYL.

Mr Badal lashed out against Capt Amarinder Singh and asked him what had prompted him to forgive the Congress for the 1984 riots and for Operation Bluestar, on which he had quit the Congress. Why had he now accepted to be leader of the party, which he had himself described as a murderer of Punjabis and Sikhs. He reminded him that for nearly five years that he was with the Akali Dal, he had described the SAD as the sole representative of Punjabis while dubbing the Congress as a class of traitors of Punjab.

The Chief Minister also had a dig at the Congress President, saying that he was a Congressman before 1984, an Akali between 1984 and 1993, a Khalistani in 1994 and Congressman again now.

He added that the previous Congress governments at the Centre and in Punjab branded the Punjabis as terrorists and separatists and thus maligned their image and hit their dignity. But when Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee became Prime Minister, he restored the glory and respect to Punjabis. Not only this, Mr Vajpayee gave everything to Punjab to put its economy back on rails and also enough money for celebrating tercentenary celebrations of birth of Khalsa and bi centenary of coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in befitting manner.

He claimed that “Punjabi bhaichara” was established in Punjab after the formation of the SAD-BJP combine government in the state and it also initiated an era of development. He added that anybody could compare the development carried out by the previous Congress governments in the past more than 45 years and the development carried out by SAD-BJP government in the past five years.

He alleged that the Congress which was agendaless, had launched a campaign to create fissures between the people on the rural-urban lines on one hand and between Hindu and Sikh lines on other hand. He added that if the Congress got a chance to rule Punjab again, it would put the state back by 20 years into the dark era of bitterness, confrontation and violence. This would mean an end to the process of peace and development, which the SAD-BJP combine had ushered in.

He asked that the Congress should tell the people about the stand taken by AICC President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee on issues pertaining Operation Bluestar and anti-Sikh riots in 1984. He expressed surprise that Ms Gandhi did not utter a single word on these issues or on the SYL canal during her campaign in Punjab.

Former Union Minister Sukhbir Badal cautioned the people that if they made a Chief Minister from Patiala, they would have to pay a heavy price for the next five years and if they made a Chief Minister from Lambi, they would enjoy all facilities of life.

A former Chief Minister, Delhi, Mr Madan lal Khurana, said the Congress had no moral right to talk of corruption when it was mother of corruption. He added that he would not leave Punjab till Mr Badal became Chief Minister again.

Mr Vijay Goyal, Union Minister, said that Mr Vajpayee and Mr Badal had set an example as they had both carried out huge development in Punjab.


Muslim front to support Congress
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, February 11
Accusing the SAD-BJP Government of ‘‘ignoring’’ the Muslim community during its five years of “misrule”, the Muslim National Front, Punjab, which claims to be representing about 25 lakh Muslims all over the state, has thrown its weight behind the Congress today by announcing its unconditional support to the party in the state.

Addressing a press conference here today, Sayed Yaqub Hussain Naqvi, the President of the Muslim National Front, Punjab, said the front's decision last time to support the SAD-BJP combine had failed to yield any tangible results as far as demands and problems of the Muslim community was concerned, which led the front to take a decision in favour of the Congress.

“ We are still passing through a difficult phase and the SAD-BJP has never taken notice of our problems. So much so that our demand for the setting up of an Urdu Academy in the state, which had been accepted by the Beant Singh Government, has been put into cold storage by the Badal Government and similarly, Muslims were not included in the Shagun scheme. On the other hand, the Congress has been trying to guard the interests of the Muslims for the past about 32 years,” said Mr Naqvi. He said people of his community had decided to work for the Congress candidates during the next two days to ensure their victory all over the state.

Moosa Imam Tirmizi, General Secretary of the front, alleged that the indifferent attitude of the SAD-BJP Government towards Muslims could be gauged from the fact that a large number of people belonging to the community were going without ration cards for years together. “ 


Cong ropes in Haryana leaders
Rajmeet Singh
Tribune News Service

Zirakpur (Banur), February 11
The Congress has been inviting leaders who wield a considerable influence among their voters in neighbouring Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal and Sirsa districts to address rallies of the party candidates, the voters in the constituencies lying along the border with Haryana could be targeted.

A senior Haryana Congress leader, Mr Shamsher Singh Surjewala, and his son, Randeep Surjewala, President of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC), today shared the stage with president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC), Capt Amarinder Singh, to address a rally in support of Ms Sheelam Sohi, the party candidate from this key constituency in Patiala district, who faces a credible challenge from a stalwart Akali leader, Capt Kanwaljit Singh. Mr Surjewala said, “I see a deal between the SAD led by the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal and the Indian National Lok Dal (NLD) government led by Mr Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana as far as the issues of farmers living on both sides of the inter-state border are concerned”. His theory was seconded by Mr Nirmal Singh, another Haryana Congress leader present on the stage.

Talking to the TNS, Mr Surjewala said he was addressing election rallies in Punjab as per the directive of the party high command. Commanding a considerable influence in Jind and Kaithal districts, he said he was being supported by party workers from Haryana.

A former Union Minister, Mr Vinod Sharma, who was also present on the occasion, said as per the election programme, Congress leaders from other states were participating in the election campaign. In his address, Capt Amarinder Singh warned the police officers for siding with the candidates of the outgoing Akali regime. He said instead of bringing the memories of the 1984 riots before the voters, the Akalis should talk about the development works undertaken by them in the past five years.

Claiming that the wave in favour of the Congress was sweeping the state, he said recent surveys had only corroborated his version. Confident of the party candidate from the Banur seat, he said the SAD candidate was confused on account of the popularity of Ms Sohi.

Riding on the sympathy vote of her husband, late Ravinder Sohi, Ms Sohi sought votes to complete the tasks left unfinished by her husband. She minced no words to criticise the SAD candidate for an alleged mudslinging against her. 


Fighting to end quota
  Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 11
Mr Rajbir Singh Sidhu, civil engineering graduate fielded by the newly floated General Samaj Party who is pitted against two heavy weights — Congress candidate Surinder Singla and sitting MLA of the SAD-BJP combine Chiranji Lal Garg — is a candidate with a difference and he is contesting elections for the first time.

Mr Sidhu asserted that this party would put an end to corruption, lack of work culture in the country and caste-based reservation. He said the GSP was not contesting elections for political reasons but due to the politics of cashing in on the name of Dalits, which other parties had adopted. No party would ever put an end to the caste-based reservation structure of the country that would mean cutting into their established vote bank, he alleged.

His father, Mr Surjit Singh Sidhu, represented the Pakka Kalan constituency from 1972-1977, winning on ticket of the Akali Dal. He made his opponent Congress candidate lose his deposit. When the Punjab Government reserved the constituency, he was forced to quit politics.

His supports say in a lighter vein that Mr Sidhu has been allotted a very significant election symbol, “kursi” (the chair), for which all parties have been fighting.

Mr Sidhu is supported by a large number of students, non-government organisations, employee unions and traders (most of them campaigning for him secretly due to various compulsions) claims that till the people from the general category were not united under a single banner the political parties would continue sacrificing their rights to retain power and appease a particular section of society.

Mr Sidhu, 40, said his poll plank was development of the constituency and ensuring civic amenities, health facilities, education and cleanliness.


Hi-tech Cong candidate
Tribune News Service

Kapurthala, February 11
The Congress has gone hi-tech in this constituency with its candidate Rana Gurjit Singh using a network of computers, “political executives”, and exhaustive data of all the villages collected over 45 days.

Farmer-turned-industrialist-turned politician, Rana Gurjit Singh is perhaps the only Congress leader who had kicked off his campaign about one-and-a-half years back when he started creating a large data base of every village and township, comprising names of panches, sarpanches, small problems dogging villagers, roads, inns, ponds to feed the data into a computer.

The data took the shape of a 200-page directory and enabled him to reach every person of every village, who mattered from the poll point of view. “You name the village, and I can give you any detail by touching a button. Besides, a team of my ‘political executives’, who had to work day and night for over a year to collect data, I had requisitioned the services of technicians related to different fields. For instance, a team of computer and electronics engineers represented me for inspection of the voting machines, similarly, all of my rally spots had been identified in advance. I did this for I don’t believe in conventional methods,” said Rana Gurjit Singh


Amarinder, Brar fail to turn up
Our Correspondent

Gurdaspur, February 11
More than 20,000 persons participated in an election rally at Fatehgarh Churian in favour of Mr Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the Congress candidate.

Mr Jagmeet Singh Brar, MP and senior Congress leader, and Capt Amarinder Singh who had earlier given their consent to participate in the rally did not turn up. However, Ms Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder and Mr Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, both former Union Ministers, were present on the occasion.

The mood of the audience was upbeat and the absence of senior Congress leaders in the rally did not disappoint them. They continued to raise anti-Badal and pro-Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa slogans.

Ms Bhinder said if Congress was voted to power it would give the people a clean and corruption-free government. It would revive all social welfare schemes, which the previous government had deliberately avoided to implement.


Harcharan Brar holds big rally
Tribune News Service

Muktsar, February 11
Bad weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of the Congress supporters as they organised a mammoth rally at Chahal Marriage Palace, Malout Road, Muktsar today. Due to bad weather the venue of the rally had to be changed as earlier it was slated to be held at Nehru Chowk.

Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and the former Chief Minister of Himachal Pardesh, Mr Virbhadra Singh, had specially arrived here to address the rally in support of the Congress nominee for the Muktsar Assembly constituency, Mr Harcharan Singh Brar.

While addressing the rally, Mr Ashok Gehlot appealed to the people to decide wisely about their future as the Akali Dal could not protect the rights of the poor. Criticising Mr Badal for the "prevailing corruption", he said: “The Badal Government has mortgaged public property to repay the debt. It is very surprising that each and every post was ‘auctioned’ and was given to the highest bidder.’’

Mr Virbhadra Singh asserted that the Congress was all set to form the government in Punjab.

Mr Kanwaljeet Singh (Sunny) Brar alleged that an Independent candidate was trying to lure the voters with fake currency notes. Apart from Sunny Brar, his two sons, Harsimran Brar and Tejveer Brar, also spoke.

Dismissing claims being made by the Akalis that the achievements of the Akali Government in the past five years were far more than the achievements of the Congress during its 45 years of rule in Punjab, Mr Harcharan Singh Brar said: “By making these kind of claims, the Akalis are only exposing themselves. Instead of making such superficial and baseless claims, why don’t they just tell the people of Punjab as to what they have done for them during their tenure. In fact, the Akalis have no facts to substantiate their claims. Once in power, the Congress will definitely inform the people as to how the Akalis have ruined the state exchequer.”


Rebels not to be reinducted: Brar
Our Correspondent

Mansa, February 11
“The Congress will come out successful with a two-thirds majority and form the next government in the state,” said Jagmeet Singh Brar, member of Parliament and Vice-President, PPCC, while talking to mediapersons here today.

To the question as to who would be the Chief Minister of Punjab if the party won, Mr Brar said the leader of the Congress Legislative Party would be elected by the MLAs.

Later, addressing a rally in favour of Mr Buta Singh, the CPI candidate for the Mansa Assembly constituency, Mr Brar held the SAD-BJP combine responsible for all ills in the state. Lashing out at the Akalis, he alleged that Akali leaders amassed huge wealth through smuggling of narcotics and addicted the youth of the state to intoxicants. He alleged that the Badal government sold 11,000 jobs and heavy amounts were collected by the wife of the Chief Minister. He said he was the only person who raised the SYL and anti-Sikh riots issues in Parliament.

He said the Congress workers who had been expelled for contesting elections as Independent candidates and their supporters would not be reinducted into the party.

While Mr Brar was addressing the rally in the New Grain Market, another rally by Mr Sher Singh Gagowa, rebel Congress candidate, was in progress in the Old Grain Market. 


Shagan’ cheques flout code, Congress tells EC
Our Correspondent

Abohar, February 11
The District Congress president, Mr Sajjan Kumar Jhkhar, today alleged that the ruling coalition in Punjab was still issuing cheques under different welfare schemes to influence voters.

In a complaint faxed to the Election Commission, Mr Jakhar said more than 50 cheques for Rs 5100 each had been distributed among residents of Usmankhera and other villages under the Shagun Scheme. He said a photostat copy of one such cheque bearing number SFA 289390 of Punjab National Bank issued in favour of Mr Sukhmander Singh of Usmankhera in this Assembly constituency had been faxed to the EC. The cheque was issued under the signatures of the SDM, Abohar.


Poll boycott over smoke, noise
J.S. Malhotra

Jalandhar, February 11
Fed up with the “failure” of politicians to shift about 100 polluting industrial units from several residential colonies of the Jalandhar (North) constituency with which about 30,000 residents have been adversely affected in the past one decade, residents of these colonies, including New Gobind Nagar, Shashi Nagar and Globe Colony, have decided to boycott the elections this time.

The residents, particularly women, have decided not to cast their votes this time in order to express their resentment against parties. Ram Lal, a resident of New Gobind Nagar, said two persons had reportedly died due to pollution-related diseases. The general secretary of the Environment Protection Society, Mr S.P.S. Sabharwal, said the air and noise pollution level in these areas had reached a dangerous level. He alleged that instead of providing any relief, new polluting units had come up and old units had been allowed to expand.

Rameshwari Devi (62) said she had been suffering from respiratory disease due to the severe air pollution in the area. “I have no option but to leave the place since there is no effort on the part of the government to shift these polluting units,” she rued.


Candidates put up last-minute show
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, February 11
Today being the last day of the election campaign contestants held massive rallies in various Assembly segments of the district to woo voters.

While the Congress candidate, Mr Surinder Singla, stole the show in Bathinda city, Mr Rajbir Singh Sidhu of the General Samaj Party also put up an impressive show. Mr Gurpreet Singh Kangar, an Akali rebel who has filed his nomination papers as an Independent candidate from Rampuraphul, led a mammoth rally and made political observers feel that he is going to upset the calculations of main contenders. Mr Jeet Mohindar Singh Sidhu, another Akali rebel who has filed his nomination as an Independent from the Talwandi Sabo Assembly segment, today sprung a surprise by organising a huge rally, putting his opponents in a tight spot at the last moment.

Congress workers once again projected Mr Singla as the future Finance Minister of Punjab and quoting Dr Manmohan Singh, former Union Finance Minister, urged the voters to vote for a Finance Minister for the region.

Mr Chiranji Lal Garg, sitting MLA and SAD-BJP alliance candidate, claimed that the SAD was instrumental in the setting up of a refinery in Bathinda. Mr Garg alleged that the claims of Mr Singla regarding his role in setting up the refinery were not based on facts.

Mr Kangar, who has been weighed against blood, besides ladoos and coins by his supporters, has put the main political parties in tight spot and speculations about his joining the Congress or reverting back to the SAD if he wins have been gaining ground.

Mr Sidhu, who had contested unsuccessfully from the Talwandi Sabo seat last time, losing to the Congress candidate, Mr Harminder Singh Jassi, by a slender margin, has been claiming that he would not let Mr Jassi win this time.


Uma: Cong team without a captain
Sumer Garg

Sunam, February 11
Ms Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, yesterday addressed an election rally in favour of Mr Parminder Singh Dhindsa, the SAD-BJP candidate for the Sunam Assembly constituency.

Ms Bharti said Mr Badal usually talked to her on the telephone twice a week and apprised her of various development projects in the state and also sought her help in completing these.

Lashing out at the Congress in Punjab, Ms Bharti said the Congress was a team without a captain for the post of Chief Minister. She charged the Congress with projecting Mr Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, spreading terrorism in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir and generating the 1984 riots in the country.

Mr Parminder Singh Dhindsa also addressed the rally.



Mrs Sonia Gandhi, President of the AICC, made all the difference to the Congress party’s election campaign in the state. This was claimed here today by Capt Amarinder Singh, President of the PPCC. He said the arrival of Ms Gandhi in Punjab proved to be a turning point for the party. It elevated the anti-Badal government mood of voters into a pro-Congress party wave, he claimed. TNS

The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President, Capt Amarinder Singh, has expelled Mr Baldev Raj, president, Block Congress Committee, Garhshankar, for his anti-party activities and working against the alliance CPI candidate for the Garhshankar Vidhan Sabha constituency, says a PPCC press note issued today. TNS

In a complaint, citizens have alleged that an Independent candidate from this constituency had reportedly spent more than Rs 20,000 on getting pits filled in the Ram Nagar locality here, to win over the voters by unfair means. Mediapersons, who visited the colony were told that the supporters of the candidate had been asked to get this demand accepted if they wanted to put flags on the houses. OC

Mr Bhupinder Sharma, vice-president of the Punjab Janata Dal (United), has joined the Congress along with the office-bearers of the district unit of the party. Mr Sharma said here in a written statement that he had joined the party because of its policies. OC

Mr Moti Lal Vora, General Secretary of the AICC, along with Mr R.L. Bhatia, former External Affairs Minister, and Mr R.S. Surjewala, President of the All-India Youth Congress Committee, visited Batala on Sunday night and addressed a public meeting at Nehru Gate in favour of Mr Ashwani Sekhri, the Congress candidate from the constituency. OC

The District Magistrate, Mr S.R. Ladhar, has banned the use of mobiles in and around the polling and counting centres in all eight Assembly constituencies of the district on February 13 and 24, the polling and counting days respectively. He said this step had been taken to ensure free and fair poll and further that no information was leaked out before time from the polling centres through these phones. OC

The situation at Kanak Mandi Chowk became tense here on Monday when BJP activists trespassed the venue of the election rally of Mr Sham Sunder Sham Arora, an Independent candidate. Supporters of Mr Sunder Sham Arora and BJP activists exchanged slogans and shouted against each other. Both staged demonstrations in favour of their respective candidates due to which the situation became very tense. Later, Mr Arora appealed to his supporters to allow BJP activists to cross the venue. OC

Mr Iqbal Singh Sidhu, District Magistrate, Hoshiarpur, has ordered the firearms licence holders to deposit their weapons in the nearest police stations or authorised gun houses by obtaining proper receipt from the concerned authority within 36 hours, in view of the Assembly elections. Deposited firearms would be returned to the licence holders a week after the declaration of results. This order will not be applicable to Army personnels, paramilitary forces and police personnels in uniform on duty and will remain in force up to February 28. OC

The Bahujan Samaj Party, after forming the government in Punjab, will solve the pending contentious inter-state issues like the SYL canal. This was announced here on Monday by the BSP supremo, Mr Kanshi Ram, while addressing the rally of the BSP-Panthic Morcha candidate, Mr Harbhajan Singh Balalon. OC


Lower courts to remain closed on Feb 13
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
Lower courts in Punjab will remain closed on February 13 due to general Assembly elections in the state. 

According to a notification issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, officials residing in SAS Nagar will also be allowed a special leave for enabling them to cast their votes. 


MPs’ panel to ‘visit’ border areas
Our Correspondent

Fazilka, February 11
Mr Madan Lal Khurana, Vice-President of the BJP and President, Parliamentary Defence Committee, while talking to mediapersons here today said, a parliamentary committee, comprising four members of Parliament, senior Army and Home Department officers would visit border areas of Fazilka and Amritsar on February 18 and 19, respectively to look into the problems of villagers of the border belt arising out of laying of landmines and migration.

Mr Khurana admitted that the state government appeared to have failed in its efforts to rehabilitate the migrant border villagers and providing succour to them.


All set for polling in Punjab
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 11
Punjab is being readied for the February 13 poll. For the first time, the entire voting will be through the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr G. S. Cheema, today said polling would commence on Wednesday at 8 am and conclude at 5 pm. Punjab has 1,58,18,240 general and 12,744 service voters.

There would be 18,239 polling booths and 21,600 electronic voting machines would be deployed. The elaborate exercise would involve 1.5 lakh employees besides 60,000 police personnel. As many as 3,628 polling stations have been identified as ‘’sensitive’’. Necessary security arrangements have been made and all 918 candidates provided with security apart from patrolling of the state. The poll-related material has been dispatched to the returning officers in the state.

Meanwhile, the Additional Chief Electoral Officer, Ms Usha R. Sharma, said the Chief Medical officer, Amritsar, Dr Ajaib Singh, had been transferred and two new Deputy Superintendents of Police appointed for Patti and Bhikhiwind — Mr Nachattar Singh and Mr Gurpreet Singh, respectively.

There have been a record number of 1000 complaints. Action is proposed against the SDM and DSP, Mohali, though their transfer was not on the cards.


Negligent poll officials to face action: DC
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 11
Mr R. Venkatratnam, district election officer, today said if any official deployed on Assembly poll duties, was found negligent he would face an action from the Election Commission.

Mr Venkatratnam, while addressing a press conference after a meeting here today, said all polling booths, which had been identified as sensitive, would be manned by personnel of paramilitary forces.

The election observer would give permit for vehicle to only one agent of the candidate. No vehicle would be allowed for the transportation of voters.


Sale of liquor prohibited
Our Correspondent

Bathinda, February 11
Mr R. Venkatratnam, District Magistrate, has banned the sale and distribution of any spirituous, fermented or intoxicating liquors or other such substances at hotels, eating houses, shops or any other place in the district from 5 p.m on February 11 to 5 p.m. on February 13 and on February 24 keeping in view Assembly elections. All liquor vends would remain closed on these days.


FIR registered against Cong MLA
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Bhikhiwind, February 11
Even as the main eyewitness in the sensational poll related firing, Darshan Kaur, who was also injured in the incident on February 6 remained elusive yet another FIR has been registered against a former Congress MLA and four others at Bhikhiwind police station on the complaint of the brother of the victim.

Mr Gurdip Singh, district police chief, Tarn Taran, said an FIR had been registered under Sections 364, 148 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code against Mr Sukhwinder Singh Buttar, a former MLA, Mr Dilbagh Singh, Mr Niranjan Singh and three unidentified persons who had allegedly ‘kidnapped’ Darshan Kaur from Mardingpura village the house of her in-laws.

Later the complainants told the Press that Darshan kaur who was brought back to the house of her in-laws after treatment in the hospital was “kidnaped” at behest of Congress leader Tejpreet Singh, alias, Peter and Congress candidate Mr Tarlok Singh Chakwalia.

It is perhaps the first such case in which three different FIRs have been lodged in the police station. The first FIR was lodged by Mr Peter on February 6 against Mr Gurpartap Singh Kairon, real brother of Mr Adeshpartap Singh Kairon, an Akali candidate (he is a son-in-law of Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister) and two others. However, the next day another FIR was lodged in the same police station against the complainant (Mr Peter) on the complaint of Darshan Kaur who had sustained injuries in the shoot out incident.

One migrant Ali Sher Khan was killed in the firing in front of the police station on February 6. On the directions of Election Commission, an SHO Mr Swarn Singh was placed under suspension while two DSPs were transferred.


Thapar staff flays govt decision
Our Correspondent

Patiala, February 11
If government can grant Rs 300 three hundred crore for Anandpur Sahib and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Memorial, why not give some grant for educational institutions?” said the president of the Employees Federation of Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology (TIET). Referring to the state government’s decision to withdraw grant to the Institute in four equal quarters, the president of the federation said recent decision of the government was bound to affect the institution adversely and the fee structure of technical institutions will register a steep hike.

The federation also threatened to take a serious view of the situation in case nothing is done about their demand.

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