The first meeting of the Punjab Congress election committee on Sunday turned out to be a stormy affair when several party leaders expressed reservations over the recent induction of Akali leaders in the party and objected to the one-line resolution adopted by the panel to authorise Congress president Sonia Gandhi to select candidates. Party leaders, including Rajya Sabha member Shamsher Singh Dullo, former state Congress chief Partap Bajwa and Jalandhar MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh, objected to the induction of Akali leader Sarwan Singh Phillaur for facing an Enforcement Directorate inquiry in Jagdish Bhola drug trade case.
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While Dullo and Chaudhary Santokh said the fact that Phillaur was summoned by the ED in the drug case should have been enough to deter Congress from bringing him to the party, Bajwa reiterated his demand that leaders coming from other parties should not be given ticket before completing a three-year cooling period. Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh was quick to remind Bajwa about how he was contradicting his stand by welcoming cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu earlier. Bajwa, it is learnt, told Amarinder that Sidhu’s entry had been blocked.
At the onset of the meeting of the 34-member jumbo panel, Bajwa objected to the one-line resolution stating that when such a big panel was constituted, discussions should take place. General secretary in-charge Asha Kumari, too, chimed in saying AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi had made it clear that discussions should take place.
The panel then unanimously decided that each panellist should prepare a list of contenders for each constituency and send it to PPCC by Sunday. Kumari also announced that each panellist was free to send recommendations independently to the former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot-headed screening committee meeting in Delhi for discussions on November 23 and 24. The panel finally passed a resolution authorising Gandhi to take the call on candidates.
When Bajwa asked for survey reports of all the 117 Assembly constituencies to discuss the leading contenders, Ambika Soni said the reports were with the high command. Dullo said Congress was hell-bent on “Akalisation” of the party and those Congressmen, who had suffered Akali excesses for the last 10 years, would be sidelined and turncoats would get tickets which was unjust.
Claiming that Hindus were being ignored, Patiala MLA Brahm Mohindra said Hindus have been the backbone of the party, which should evolve a mechanism to attract traders, employees and urban voters. He said in the 1992 Assembly election, when Sikhs boycotted the polls, it was Hindus, who voted for the Congress led by Beant Singh to power. And, that government finally rooted out terrorism from Punjab. Batala MLA Ashwini Sekhri supported Mohindra.