Saturday, November 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Punjab ministers meet Sonia
Explain handling of SGPC poll
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 15
Seven Cabinet ministers from Punjab today met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to explain the Amarinder Singh government’s handling of the SGPC poll and attempts being made to tarnish its image by the political opponents.

Finance Minister Lal Singh, Transport Minister Tej Prakash Singh, Public Works Minister Pratap Singh Bajwa, Excise and Taxation Minister Sardool Singh, Irrigation Minister Gurchet Singh Bhullar, Industry Minister Avtar Henry and Public Health Minister Jasjit Singh Randhawa, met Mrs Gandhi in the morning for about 20 minutes.

The ministers yesterday met Congress general secretaries Mohsina Kidwai and Ambika Soni and AICC treasurer Moti Lal Vora.

The ministers explained how ``timely steps taken by the government had ensured a fair and peaceful SGPC poll.’’ They said that security had been beefed up in view of the prevailing tension and the calls made by rival Akali factions to mobilise lakhs of their workers.

The ministers said that there was no question of the police going to Harmiandar Sahib or the Akal Takht and maintained that the local officials had gone to the adjoining serais as a preventive measure. They said that Capt Amarinder Singh, who had twice resigned from his posts over the entry of the police in the Golden Temple, could not have allowed this when he is the Chief Minister.

They said former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was making allegations against Capt Amarinder Singh over the SGPC poll to divert the attention of the people from the corruption charges faced by his regime. They emphasised that there was no interference in the SGPC elections and no SGPC member could say that he was influenced or intimidated by the state government.

Pointing to the possibility of vested interests causing violence during the poll to defame the Congress government, the ministers detailed the steps taken by the state government to ensure a peaceful poll.

Rana G.S. Sodhi, political secretary to the Chief Minister, also accompanied the ministers.

Expressing satisfaction over the peaceful poll, the high command leaders, however, said that the reports about the police entering the Golden Temple complex should have been immediately clarified so as to prevent the opponents from making political capital out of it.

After the reports in the media about the entry of the police in the Golden Temple complex, Mrs Gandhi had instructed the Punjab Chief Minister to ensure that peace prevailed and religious sentiments of the Sikh community were not hurt.

Talking to The Tribune later, the ministers said the government had given top priority to ensuring peace during the SGPC elections as the state had painful memories of the violence following events at the Nirankari Samagam in 1978 when Mr Badal was the Chief Minister.

On the demand for summoning Capt Amarinder Singh before Akal Takht, the ministers said Mr Badal had himself not responded to the summons by Akal Takht in the past and the Chief Minister did not need any certificate from Mr Badal. They alleged that Mr Badal had not given details of the money given by the non-resident Indians for the Khalsa anniversary celebrations.

Punjab Congress leaders felt that though Mr Badal’s candidate had won in the SGPC poll, the good showing by the Tohra group would be to the advantage of the Congress in the forthcoming poll as the results would have an adverse impact on any future talks of unity between the two groups.

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