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Punjab Votes ’07
Sonia pulls them in, plays the valour card
Prabhjot Singh and Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Congress president Sonia Gandhi at a rally in Phagwara
supporters wave party flags as she flies out of Amritsar on Wednesday.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi at a rally in Phagwara; and (top) supporters wave party flags as she flies out of Amritsar on Wednesday. — Tribune photographs

Phagwara/Jandiala, February 7
Playing the secular card, the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, today called upon Punjabis, especially women, to defeat communal and disruptive forces so as to give her party another chance to place Punjab to number one position in the country again.

Starting her election campaign after paying obeisance at Harmandar Sahib, Mrs Gandhi said “communal and disruptive forces want to derail Punjab from the path of economic growth and development. It was Punjab which had set the trend in the last Assembly elections by voting the Congress back to power. The rest of the country followed suit. The future of Punjab and the country is safe in the hands of the Congress,” she said, maintaining that her party had delivered whatever it had promised to the people of Punjab five years ago.

Economic development and progress, she said, was possible in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility alone.

Attired in a maroon printed suit with a fawn dupatta, Mrs Gandhi was visibly pleased with the turnout at Jandiala and Phagwara both, and repeatedly waved at the responsive audience. At each of the venues she spoke about 10 to 12 minutes. There was a marked difference in attendance at her rallies compared to rallies addressed by the Prime Minister.

Eulogizing the contribution of Punjabis not only in the freedom struggle but also in making the country self-sufficient in foodgrains, she said Punjabis had earned a place for themselves everywhere in the world.

“It is now time for them to get back to their number one position in the country also. I am sure by giving Congress another term, you will add a new chapter of economic growth and development in Punjab where the future of the people, including youth and women, would remain secure,” she added.

Interestingly, Mrs Gandhi picked up from where the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, left at Ludhiana yesterday. Without naming Akalis or the Bharatiya Janata Party, she targeted “communal and disruptive forces” for “wreaking havoc with the economy and social fabric” of Punjab and the rest of the country.

She said Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru had special affection for Punjab. Reminding people of the sacrifices made by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, she said the Congress had always stood for unity and integrity of the country by giving every community its due.

Praising Punjabis, especially of the border belt, she said they bore the brunt of invaders and defended the borders of the country with valour and courage. Improving relations with Pakistan Punjab, she said, would pave the way for overall development of the border belt, besides making Amritsar a trade centre for the Central Asia.

Mrs Gandhi, who received an overwhelming response from women in the audience, said the Congress was one party which had carried everyone with along . “Women, Dalits and the youth have to be given their due. In Punjab, farmers also deserve special attention. The UPA government at the Centre has been doing its best to look after the interests of Punjab and all help has been forthcoming from the Centre, “she added.

Both at Jandiala and Phagwara, the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh ,and the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Mr Shamsher Singh Dullo, blasted the Akalis for the turbulence that the state underwent from 1971 to 1996.

In Phagwara, Mrs Sonia Gandhi stood and exchanged greetings with Baba Kashmira Singh, who at the end of the rally presented a siropa and a kirpan to her. Mr Joginder Singh Mann also presented a doshala and a painting of Guru Nanak to her.

Both in Jandiala and Phagwara, all senior leaders of the party, including Congress candidates for various constituencies were present. Conspicuous by his absence was Beas candidate Jasbir Singh Gill, alias Dimpa.

Cong up to old tricks: Badal

Chandigarh: The SAD president, Mr Parkash Singh Badal said here on Wednesday it was evident that the Prime minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi were playing the ‘communal’ card to avoid a humiliating defeat at the hustings. This was an old trick of the Congress, he said.

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Sidhu has deserted Holy City: Singla
Ashok Sethi

Amritsar, February 7
Questioning the credibility of the high moral ground taken by senior BJP leader L.K. Advani over the resignation of former BJP MP and its candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Congress nominee, Mr Surinder Singla, today said the credibility had taken a severe beating as Mr Sidhu had got himself registered as a voter in Patiala while deserting the holy city.

He is frustrated, says Navjot

Mr Sidhu said he had never been to Patiala for the past three years and would never leave Amritsar because he resided in the heart of the people. Mr Singla was giving such statements out of frustration, he said.

Releasing photocopies of the voter list of the Amritsar (West) constituency, where Mr Sidhu and his wife were registered as voters after being asked by the party to fight the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Mr Singla said Mr Sidhu had played a fraud with the people of Amritsar as he used to proclaim that he would never leave Amritsar “in spite of all adversities”.

He said the Congress had already sent a representation to the Election Commission to proceed against Mr Sidhu's wife who was registered as a voter both in Amritsar and Patiala.

According to sources, Mr Sidhu might have cancelled his vote here and got himself registered in his home town as there was tremendous pressure from the SAD-BJP alliance to pit him against the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, from Patiala.

Mr Singla alleged that the cricketer-turned-politician was questioned by the CBI at least four times in the match-fixing controversy. Mr Singla alleged that Mr Sidhu was also involved in clandestine transfer of money from the UK for which the income tax authorities had already issued a notice to him.

A spokesman for Mr Sidhu, while denying the claims of the Congress candidate, clarified that Mr Sidhu would never abandon the city as he enjoyed tremendous affection from the people of the holy city.

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