Talwandi Sabo (Punjab), April 14 (Inditop) Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi Tuesday renewed his attack on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani on the Kandahar hijack episode, saying either he was not telling the truth or the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not trust him.
“Advaniji says he did not know about the decision of releasing terrorists in the Kandahar case. The youth of this country want to know why he did not know about such an important issue. There can only be two things – either Vajpayeeji did not trust him or he (Advani) is not telling the truth,” Rahul Gandhi told a big gathering in this Sikh holy town, 250 km from Chandigarh.
Terrorists were exchanged in order to free Indian hostages in the 1999 Kandahar episode.
Describing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as “Sher-e-Punjab” (lion of Punjab) and the “pride of Punjab, Sikhs and India”, Rahul Gandhi said it was the BJP leadership which should come clear on the Kandahar issue instead of launching a tirade against the prime minister. Advani is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
The Congress leader was here to address his first election rally in Punjab, particularly for the Congress candidate from the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat, Raninder Singh.
Sporting a saffron coloured Sikh turban, Rahul Gandhi greeted people on the occasion of Baisakhi.
“Main tuhwanu saareyan nu Baisakhi di lakh-lakh vadhayee deendah haan,” he said in Punjabi before beginning his speech. (I greet you all on the occasion of Baisakhi). He described Punjab as a “holy land”.
Rahul Gandhi’s 10-minute speech in Hindi was full of praise for Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh prime minister of the country.
“Manmohan Singhji has been running the United Progressive Alliance government for the last five years effectively. It was a government for the aam aadmi (common man). We started many programmes like the employment guarantee scheme and the Rs.70,000 crore loan waiver for farmers,” he pointed out.
“Manmohan Singh is the pride of Punjab, Sikhs and India. He has done a lot for the people. All the benefits have not reached you (in Punjab) because of the state government (Akali Dal-BJP alliance government) here.”
Chiding those attacking the prime minister as being weak, Rahul Gandhi said: “Opposition leaders say he is a weak prime minister and does not fight or stand up against terrorism. In the Mumbai terror attack, Manmohan Singh put so much pressure on Pakistan that it had to admit that terrorists came from that country.
“What the opposition (BJP) does not say is that when they were in power, the attack on parliament and the Kandahar hijack took place,” Gandhi said.
The Congress leader, who was flanked by all young party candidates from Punjab’s various seats, said five out of 13 Congress candidates in Punjab were youth leaders.
“We will implement the Punjab model in the rest of the country as well,” he added.
Rahul Gandhi had last year personally supervised Punjab’s Youth Congress elections. The officebearers were elected through a democratic process. He said the Youth Congress had a membership of 300,000 in Punjab now.
Rahul Gandhi’s presence here saw a show of unity by top Punjab Congress leaders, including Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
Amarinder Singh’s son, Raninder Singh, is the Congress candidate for the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat. He is pitted against Harsimrat Kaur, wife of Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in a high-stakes election for both families and their respective parties.