Once out of favour after losing two consecutive assembly elections, former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh is back on centre-stage of Punjab politics. On Sunday, he held a show of strength announcing he would take on Amit Shah with a rally to counter the BJP president’s anti-drug rally in Amritsar on January 22.
Even when he was pushed to the fringes, Amarinder maintained his network with leaders who matter in the state Congress. Most Congress MLAs including the CLP leader, as well as former MLAs, turned up at his event, in the process alienating state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa.
His detractors say his announcement was a strategy to hit the national headlines. Those in his camp, however, say the Amritsar rally has the approval of Sonia Gandhi.
Bajwa, on the other hand, was one of the first appointments by Rahul Gandhi after he took over as Congress vice president, and party sources feel it has become a prestige issue for Rahul to ensure Bajwa retains his influence.
Bajwa has been facing protest after protest from party members, who have accused him of being temperamental and not trusting them. Many of his closest aides have deserted him for the other side. His associates say he sometimes entrusts a single task to three or four of them at the same time, upsetting all of them.
A relatively young leader seen as a loner without a core team or a set of advisers, Bajwa faced his first revolt during the reorganisation of PPCC at the end of 2013. Although the restructure was done at the instance of the high command, it was Bajwa who faced the anger of those left out. Bajwa annoyed in particular Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, who had joined his camp only to desert him after being denied the LS ticket from Ferozepore. Sodhi held Bajwa responsible though it is said to be on Rahul’s insistence that the Congress fielded Sunil Jakhar, who lost the Ferozepur election. A reluctant Bajwa himself was made to contest from Gurdaspur, a constituency he is seen as not having nurtured as MP, and which he lost by over a lakh votes.
Bajwa’s few remaining associates, in fact, liken him to the Bible’s Pontius Pilate who, though reluctant, had condemned Jesus to death on a cross since the PCC chief has been executing orders from the top.
Party men’s view of Amarinder, on the other hand, varies according to which camp they are in. Whether a charismatic leader who enjoys mass support, or a strategist who has timed his move to ruthless perfection, he has announced a programme that should have been the prerogative of the PPCC. As such, the MP from Amritsar has transgressed party discipline once again, after having attacked Bajwa every now and then. But the crowd he pulled was an indication of the way the wind is blowing.