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Manmohan Singh hits out at Akali Dal

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BRACING FOR POLLS: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being felicitated by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh at an election rally in Patiala on Tuesday.
BRACING FOR POLLS: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being felicitated by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh at an election rally in Patiala on Tuesday.

Sarabjit Pandher

Accuses them of inciting people by misusing religion to stall Punjab's development

PATIALA: Ostensibly irked by the criticism from the Opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday sought to hit out at the Shiromani Akali Dal, especially its chief Parkash Singh Badal, for inciting people by misusing religion and caste to hinder development.

Addressing a rally while beginning the second leg of his campaign for the Punjab Assembly elections, where polling is due on February 13, Dr. Singh said that during his three terms as Chief Minister, Mr. Badal made negligible contribution to the development of the State, compared to the present incumbent Amarinder Singh in the last five years.

`Compare development'

Asking the people of Punjab to compare the development work and progress made during the tenures of Mr. Badal and Capt. Singh, the Prime Minister said: "You would be in the know of what is a lie and what is the truth."

Dr. Singh said that the present Government at the Centre had written off the Rs. 5,000 crore debt standing against Punjab, which the previous NDA Government under the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in which the Akalis were partners, allowed to swell. He said that this amount should be used for the development of education and health, power generation and laying roads and building bridges.

The Prime Minister's outburst comes after the Akalis launched a campaign in the regional media asking Dr. Singh to explain why Punjab was ignored when a Rs. 17,000-crore special package was announced for farmers in the four south Indian States. It sought to know where the Rs 20,000 crore had gone, which the Chief Minister claimed the State had received since Dr. Singh took over as Prime Minister.

"Is this his reward for voting you to power?" the Akali Dal said drawing the attention of the Prime Minister to the aam aadmi (common citizen) who was reeling under the burden of price rise. The party also sought to know why Punjab was denied an industrial package, when major benefits were announced for the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Many new heights

In his address, which was constantly cheered by Congress workers and supporters, the Prime Minister said that loss and damage to Punjab's economy and industrial development during terrorism could not be recovered in just five years, though Capt. Singh's Government had achieved much.

Dr. Singh said: "I appeal to you to strengthen the hands of Capt. Amarinder Singh by voting for the Congress party, which would strengthen the hands of Ms. Sonia Gandhi and further consolidate the position of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). And give Congress another five years in Punjab so that the remaining development works could be completed."

The Prime Minister said that with all-round development, more jobs would be generated and the Punjabi youth would not have to go abroad to seek employment.

Textile clusters

With the aim of raising the income of farmers, the Union Government had granted two textiles clusters in Punjab. Farmers' cotton would be value added in these clusters and Punjab would become a State that would produce textiles, cotton garments and other items for the international market, Dr. Singh added.

In his address, Capt. Singh, who sought a mandate for the development of State, promised that his Government would spend Rs. 14,000 crore on power sector in the next term to ensure 24-hour power supply to the agriculture sector, domestic and industrial sectors.

Among those present were Union Power Minister, Sushil Shinde, MP, Parneet Kaur and president of the State unit of the party Shamsher Singh Dullo. President of the Punjab Youth Congress, Vijay Inder Singla, presented a sword and a siropa to the Prime Minister.

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