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My religion is personal, I can’t use it for votes

Chitleen K Sethi & GS Paul
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, November 14
It’s not every day that one hears a statement like this coming from politicians, who are generally promising the moon to potential voters: “I begin my journey from the land of sacrifice. But the journey we undertake is not an easy one. If you walk with me, you might end up with boils on your feet. But it is a journey we must commit ourselves to and start with a smile. For we are doing this for our state, our country and our future,” said Manpreet, addressing an impressive gathering of his supporters — all sporting saffron headbands — outside the Golden Temple this afternoon.

Nor does one have a four-time MLA of a panthic party saying, “My agenda is not panthic. My religion is personal to me. I cannot use it to gather votes. But if the Sikhs want to prosper as a community, they have to ensure that they have the resources to do so which is possible only if we set the finances of the state right.” Manpreet made this clear in an interview to The Tribune this morning.

Dressed in a white kurta pyjama, Manpreet looked visibly touched at the strength of the gathering. Speaking calmly in short, carefully worded sentences, his speech to his supporters was brief.

Those who had come hoping to hear him trash the Badals or Congress leaders went back disappointed. Nor did he publicly declare his concrete agenda which left many of his supporters high and dry. “What we have to do next, we will be announcing through a press conference,” he said towards the end of his speech.

Thousands of supporters from Muktsar, Faridkot, Patiala and Tarn Taran, were mobilised by MLAs — Manjinder Singh Kang, Jagbir Singh Brar and Charanjit Channi — and leaders who are with Manpreet. Though the final result showed up as an overwhelming response to Manpreet’s call, it seemed the effort had not been easy.

“Not a single bus from anywhere in Punjab was given to us to ferry supporters. We got buses from Rajasthan and Haryana. Last night many of the buses we gathered were locked away in a thana in Gidderbaha. Only when Manpreet’s supporters threatened to torch the police station, the buses were released,” said Kang.

“Even the SGPC buses that normally ply devotees from the railway station to the Golden Temple had been stopped,” let out SGPC member Sukhdev Singh Jhinda, who is the President of the Haryana Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (ad hoc), who came out openly in support of Manpreet, following his press conference.

Manpreet’s visit to the Golden Temple was completely ignored by the SGPC which normally honours prominent personalities with a siropa before the beginning of the visit. “Even Capt Amarinder Singh was honoured with a siropa. This is an unfortunate stance taken by the SGPC,” said a bystander at the Golden Temple.

For a man who had decided to set a radical agenda for the state, Manpreet did not show any signs of worry or tension through the day. He drove himself from Chandigarh, starting in the wee hours, and reached Amritsar by 8 am. Throughout the journey, he talked candidly about his political journey relating his experiences with anecdotes, couplets and instances quoted from the many books he has read.

“As a person on a mission, I relate most closely to Kamal Ataturk. The man had an amazing vision for Turkey and changed the course of history for that nation,” he said.

Accompanied by only a handful of cars from Chandigarh, Manpreet was later joined by hundreds of vehicles at the New Amritsar gate where the road show began at noon. He shifted into an open jeep for the road show. After paying obeisance at the Golden Temple, Manpreet also visited the Jalianwala Bagh memorial as also the Durgiana Mandir.

People had arrived at the Golden Temple as early as 4 am to listen to Manpreet. They waited for him without becoming restless till he arrived there at 1 pm. As he went inside the Golden Temple, the entire parikarma around the sanctum sanctorum got filled, leaving no empty space.

Later, addressing the people at the Dharam Singh Market Chowk from an open jeep, he told a very responsive crowd that his small group had no money for organising a rally, so he was addressing them on the road.

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