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Congress leaders spend night outside Badal's residence


Chandigarh, Oct 14: Leaders of the opposition Congress party spent the entire night protesting at the gate of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's official residence here. The protest by the party leaders continued on Friday.

The high-security upscale area in Sector 2 where Badal resides was partially blocked owing to the ongoing protest.

The protesters increased as families of war martyrs and home guard personnel killed on duty, also joined in outside the Chief Minister's residence on Friday.

Although the area is a strictly a no-protest zone with Section 144 CrPC imposed at all times that bans the assembly of five or more people, yet the agitating crowd continued to increase. 

Led by Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar and leader of opposition in Punjab Assembly Charanjit Singh Channi, the Congress leaders started their protest on Thursday noon and continued it throughout the night.

They are demanding action against senior police officers in Ludhiana who failed to avert the clash on Monday and later booked Congress leaders. They accused the Punjab Police of high-handedness.

Badal, who came out of his residence on Thursday evening, had ordered Director General of Police Suresh Arora to probe the violent clash between activists of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal youth wing and the opposition Congress on Dussehra eve in Ludhiana.

Following directions from Badal, the DGP left for Ludhiana for an on-the-spot inquiry into Monday evening's incident.

"I have asked the DGP to personally probe the incident and submit a report within three days," Badal had told the media here.

Congress leaders in Ludhiana had put up an effigy of a "chitta" (colloquial term for drugs in Punjab) Ravana during Dussehra celebrations to highlight the state government's alleged failure to curb the drug menace in Punjab.

The clash left a few Congress leaders, including the Ludhiana-urban unit president Gurpreet Gogi, injured. Vehicles of Congress leaders were also damaged.

Bittu was saved during the clash by his security personnel.

The Punjab Police later arrested a youth Congress leader Parvinder Lapran. Five other Congress leaders were also booked.

A spokesperson from the Chief Minister's Office said Badal personally spoke to the agitating Congress leaders and assured them that the law would take its own course and anybody found guilty would not be spared.

Jakhar said the probe was an eyewash and that earlier probes by the Punjab Police into major incidents of crime had yielded nothing.

The opposition party leaders alleged that Ludhiana Police Commissioner Jatinder Singh Aulakh and additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Jaswinder Singh were behaving like Akali Dal agents and targeting Congress leaders and activists.

Congress activists had on Wednesday barged into the commissioner's office in Ludhiana and pasted stickers saying "Proud to be an Akali".

Ex-Akali Dal lawmaker Inderbir Singh Bolaria joins Congress


Chandigarh, Oct 11: A day after resigning from the Punjab assembly, former Shiromani Akali Dal leader Inderbir Singh Bolaria joined the Congress on Tuesday.

Bolaria, who represented the Amritsar-South assembly seat since 2008, had sent his resignation to Assembly Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal on Monday.

He joined the Congress in the presence of state Congress president Amarinder Singh at an event in Amritsar, 250 km from here.

Bolaria, who was first elected in 2008 (by-election) from the Amritsar South seat, was re-elected in the 2012 assembly polls. He was made Chief Parliamentary secretary (CPS) in the Punjab government earlier.

He was suspended from the Akali Dal recently after he rebelled against a decision of the Punjab government to set up a waste management plant in his constituency.

Sidhu and his wife quit BJP, Next move still in limbo


Chandigarh, Oct 9: So the Sidhu couple -- cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and his doctor-turned-politician wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu -- have finally exited the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The party that brought them into politics one by one is not regretting it. At least, not at present.

With Navjot Kaur sending her on-line resignation from the party on Saturday, following in her husband's footsteps who quit last month, the couple's exit which looked imminent has finally came. It took Punjab BJP president and uUnion minister Vijay Sampla just a few minutes to accept Kaur's resignation and end the association.

"The party made her an MLA and even CPS (Chief Parliamentary Secretary), made him (Navjot Singh Sidhu) a Rajya Sabha member. The party gave them maximum respect and accommodated them. Their ambitions and expectations may have been more," Sampla said, taking a dig at the Sidhus.

Kaur is the BJP legislator from the Amritsar-East assembly seat. Her husband had earlier remained Lok Sabha member from Amritsar (2004, 2007 - a by-poll, and 2009).

The Sidhu couple had mostly remained at loggerheads with Punjab's ruling family, the Badals, in the past over a decade.

Though the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, virtually run by the Badal family, and the BJP have been partners for a number of years, the Sidhus never missed an opportunity to gun for the Badals, the Akali Dal and the alliance government, which has been in power in Punjab since 2007.

Even though Kaur was a CPS in the Badal government, she openly took potshots at her own government, often accusing it of stalling development in her and Sidhu's Amritsar constituency. The couple spoke their mind and left the alliance and its government embarrassed. A couple of times, a truce was secured between both sides but that could never sustain for long.

So what's next for the Sidhu couple?

Sidhu quit as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, given to him on a platter by the BJP government at the Centre, in July this year. For the next few days, he was hot political property which everyone in Punjab -- be it the main opposition Congress or the new challenger Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-- wanted to lap up.

But the politically erratic Sidhu, while toying with the possibilities, ended up announcing his own political forum Awaaz-e-Punjab. He "exposed" the AAP and its convener Arvind Kejriwal and threw conditions at the Congress leadership.

At one time, it was speculated that the AAP could make Sidhu its chief ministerial candidate. However, Sidhu himself said the AAP leadership just offered a ticket for his wife and a ministerial berth if the party was voted to power.

Sidhu's game to aspire for chief ministership virtually ended even before it started.

While the AAP, which is facing a turmoil in its Punjab unit now, kept quiet on the Sidhu episode, the Congress, which was keen on Sidhu at one stage, is having second thoughts.

In fact, Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh, who earlier used to say that Sidhu belongs to a Congress family, seems to have had enough of the chirpy Sidhu's political banter.

"He (Sidhu) seems to be a very confused man. He keeps changing his statements. It is better that he stays away from us (Congress)," a visibly upset Amarinder Singh said.

With the entry to the Congress and AAP becoming doubtful and his move to launch a fourth front with a new party remaining a non-starter, Sidhu has created an uncertain situation for himself and others.

Amid the confusion in the opposition ranks, the Akali Dal-BJP combine seems to be relishing as the two parties are eyeing a third term as Punjab goes for assembly elections early next year.

India Pakistan become soft, Punjab villagers head back their home


Chandigarh, Oct 7: The Punjab government on Friday issued instructions to reverse its earlier decision to evacuate the villages of Punjab situated within a 10-km belt along with Pakistan border.

The move follows a decision of the union home ministry which on Friday revoked its decision that led to the evacuation of villages along Punjab's 553-km international border.

Following this, residents of border villages in Amritsar, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Fazilka districts started returning to their home along with their belongings.

The villagers have been allowed to go back after nine days.

The evacuation was ordered on September 29 following the Indian Army's surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC).

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also the Punjab Home Minister, said the decision to reverse the evacuation of border villages was taken at a meeting of Chief Ministers of western border states with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan where the situation along the entire border with Pakistan was reviewed.

Badal told Punjab Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal about the decision. The Deputy Commissioners of all six districts were asked to take immediate steps to ensure a smooth return of the affected people to their villages.

"Apprehending retaliation from Pakistan after the surgical attacks, the state government ordered the evacuation of about 1,000 villages to safer places. Now the residents have been allowed to go back to their respective homes," a Punjab government spokesperson said here.

"The government has assured the residents of the villages around Indo-Pakistan border that they will be provided complete security," the spokesperson said.

Villagers seemed upset about the evacuation and the sudden reversal.

"They should have waited for correct inputs before ordering evacuation. Who will pay for the expenses incurred by the villagers and the losses they have suffered as they had to stay away from work and home for so many days?" asked Gurjot Singh of Dera Baba Nanak area.

The Punjab government, following directions from the Union Home Ministry, had on September 29 ordered evacuation of border residents to safer areas. Over four lakh (400,000) people in six border districts were affected.

Many families and people had refused to move out saying they had to tend to their crops, cattle and properties.

The Punjab government and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine came in for criticism from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party in particular for over-reacting to the situation and ordering the evacuation.

The union government had, on October 2, allowed border farmers to harvest their paddy crop following growing resentment among farmers.

Schools in the border belt, which were closed since September 29, were ordered to be opened from October 5.

Evacuated villagers had alleged mismanagement by local authorities at the evacuation camps saying there were hardly any arrangements.

The evacuation move followed apprehensions that Pakistan could retaliate after the cross-LoC strikes.

Badal said he had asked Rajnath Singh to allow Punjab to raise five armed battalions which would act like a second line of defence behind the Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the border with Pakistan.

The Punjab government has already identified 75 points where check points needed to be placed as a second line of defence, he said.