In poll-bound Punjab, Badal's ubiquitous

In poll-bound Punjab, Badal's ubiquitous

CM pictures galore on schoolgirls bicycles, ambulances; ration cards take Akalis blue hue

Thousands of schoolgirls pedaling their way each morning to schools in cash-starved Punjab share one common element. It’s the bicycle they ride. One, these thousands of bicycles are all of the same make; and two, they flaunt a firmly fixed picture of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal right on top of the front carrier.

Publicity on wheels

The target is to hand over 1.23 lakh such ‘tailormade’ bicycles to schoolgirls free of cost, and of course, garner free publicity on wheels ahead of elections just a couple of months away.

State-run ambulances are next. All the ambulances have enlarged images of Badal on both sides.

It’s unthinkable anyone would miss several of these ambulances moving around on the state roads publicising the chief minister, of course, besides helping patients.

Badal seems omnipresent in the poll-bound state. Consider this. The state has nearly 15 lakh beneficiaries, essentially poor people, who get subsidised food items every month from various outlets on producing a blue ration card. That there are fake beneficiaries and rich landlords on the list is a different story.

The lakhs of blue ration cards also flaunt the picture of Badal. There’s another Punjab minister, Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, who appears prominently, besides Badal. That’s because he is the food minister and also the chief minister’s relative.

Incidentally, denials apart, ration cards have the blue colour scheme as it’s the traditional colour associated with the ruling Akali Dal. And blue is here to last long.

The public distribution vehicles will soon be painted in prominent blue colour scheme, sources said. There’s more.

The image of Badal is even on utensils distributed to the poor.

And it’s likely that much of the picture-driven campaign of the ruling Akali Dal meets a dead-end sooner than later.

The Punjab state election commission has shot off a letter to the state chief secretary asking him to get the images of Badal removed from bicycles and ration cards.

The deadline could be as close as the date the election commission announces the model code of conduct ahead of the elections in February next year.

Controversy

Notwithstanding the opposition’s outcry over what it describes as “uncalled-for publicity stunts,” the distribution of bicycles to girls has invited a controversy of sorts.

A few girls have refused to accept the bicycles atop the picture of the chief minister maintaining that Badal was the head of the government during the massacre of Sikhs.

They say the chief minister had even written to the Central government, which reflects that he also supported the Army action on Darbar Sahib in 1984.

Badal’s confidant and ministerial colleague Seva Singh Sekhwan defends pasting photographs of Badal on bicycles. And here his rationale.

“If the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi can be printed on the national currency, why can Badal’s pictures not be pasted on cycles?”

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