WHEN CAPTAIN Amarinder Singh took over as Punjab Congress president, it was at the end of a bitter tussle with Partap Singh Bajwa, the leader he would eventually replace. The two appeared to have made peace since then as the Congress, helped by strategist Prashant Kishor, strove to put up a united face against the Aam Aadmi Party and the SAD-BJP.
Of late, Bajwa has been asserting himself again, at a time when Amarinder is expected to be the party’s face in the upcoming elections. After cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s Awaaz-e-Punjab express a willingness to align with a “Congress minus Amarinder”, word soon went out that it was Bajwa who was in touch with Sidhu.
Initially, it had been Amarinder who had voiced the Congress’s readiness to take in Sidhu. Once Sidhu accused Amarinder of a nexus with the Badals (the chief minister and his family), however, Amarinder called Sidhu a “comedian”. Now Bajwa has started making statements that the Congress should have an understanding with Sidhu and gain from his “mass appeal.”
At the concluding function of Jwani Sambhal Yatra organised by CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi in Bathinda Monday, Bajwa said the Congress should consider taking Sidhu along. He did say, however, that Sidhu’s precondition was not acceptable.
A fortnight earlier, Bajwa was at a Rakhar Punya function in Baba Bakala, where he said he had taken it on himself to ensure that Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia would be sent to jail should the Congress be voted to power. He promised to quit his party posts if action is not taken against Majithia. Bajwa’s comments brought unease within party circles, with many leaders saying such a stand, if taken at all, should ideally have come from Amarinder.
In between these two events, Bajwa made a remark that offended Amarinder’s camp. At a function at Hoshiarpur last week, Bajwa said taking names during his speech would be a waste of time, and in the process omitted making any mention of Amarinder.
And over the past few weeks, Bajwa has organised a series of functions with his supporters in Bhoa, Taran Tarn, Khem Karan and Tanda. With the Punjab PCC not involved, these events were widely seen as shows of personal strength.
The reason Bajwa has started asserting himself, sources in the Congress say, is that over 25 of his supporters were not accommodated in a recent expansion of the PCC. A source close to Bajwa said he was upset after having gone all out to support Amarinder.
Bajwa is considered close to Rahul Gandhi but whether neither camp would hazard a guess whether his remarks and the impression these are sending out would affect the party’s poll prospects. Where Bajwa has been different from his earlier showdown with Amarinder is that he has avoided frontal attacks and sought to put his message across subtly.
In 2012, after the Congress lost, it had been Bajwa who made the first demands for Amarinder’s removal as party chief. After the reins were handed over to Bajwa, Amarinder paid him back with a rebellion and got his post back.