The initial euphoria in the BJP over Capt Amarinder Singh’s “rebellion” against the ruling Congress in Punjab and his remarks of entering into a seat sharing pact with the saffron party for next year’s Assembly polls has now given way to a scepticism with its senior leadership now facing the challenge of packaging the former chief minister in a manner that pleases its cadres in the state.
The BJP consistently attacked Amarinder Singh as CM for the targeted attacks on its leaders during farmers’ agitation and over the deteriorating law and order, among other issues. On his part, Amarinder always accused the BJP of being communal party.
Sources within BJP say that the ground level workers have been questioning party leaders over how they can suddenly go from criticising Amarinder for the various lapses which took place during his tenure to praising him following his exit as CM. They also point towards the utterances of Amarinder in recent past where he even blamed BJP workers for taking part in 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
“We have been blaming Amarinder for not lifting even a finger to protect our party leaders during the ongoing farmers’ agitation. Our MLA from Abohar, Arun Narang, was thrashed and made to run in a market with his clothes torn in the presence of Punjab Police. Our state president Ashwani Sharma’s convoy was attacked with stones and he had a narrow escape. Our former state president and minister Tikshan Sud’s house was dumped with cow dung and pro-Khalistan slogans were raised. All this happened right under the nose with tacit permission by Amarinder as the CM,” said an agitated BJP leader.
Another middle rung party leader claimed that the issue had been brought to the notice of the central leadership when the ministers visited Chandigarh for a review of the election strategy. “There is no doubt that the central leadership feels that Amarinder can be a vote-cutter for the Congress and create hurdles for them in retaining power. But the fact remains that BJP workers have faced police cases and been harassed and humiliated during his tenure. How can that be forgotten. Our state president sat on a dharna outside Amarinder’s official residence to protest against the mistreatment of our workers by Congress workers and the police,” he said.
Sources said the BJP leadership has also not appreciated the fact that Amarinder released photograph of his Pakistani friend Aroosa Alam with late Sushma Swaraj. “What was the need for him to do this? The BJP had not uttered a single word against him on this issue. He was being attacked by his own partymen over his friendship with her. There is some amount of trepidation within party ranks that there may be more in store on the issue, which may embarrass the BJP once they enter into a tie-up with Amarinder,” said a party functionary.
A senior leader of the party, who did not want to be named, however dismissed all these fears. “Our central leadership is very much in touch with him. They will take into account all factors before arriving at a decision. There are lot of advantages of having Amarinder in an electoral alliance. The Hindus of Punjab feel secure with him and he is seen as a nationalist leader. He can cause lot of damage to Congress by pulling away votes from them,” the leader said.
However, sources said a section of the state leadership of the party has strong reservations about any possible alliance with Amarinder. “Just a year back during Dussehra we were tearing into Amarinder for encouraging the burning of effigies of Ravana with photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We squarely blamed him for allowing rail blockades to be put up in the state by farmers and for trying to blackmail the central government by making no efforts to remove those blockades. How can now Amarinder be declared a messiah of the farmers’ movement by us. After all, we have to give some justification. Amarinder losing CM’s chair is hardly a reason for this,” said a state leader.
Another middle level state functionary said that it must not be forgotten that Amarinder even went to the extent of having blamed BJP workers for having a hand in anti-Sikh riots of 1984. “Here we are going around Punjab and the country giving credit to PM Modi for having ensured that justice was done in the 1984 riot cases and the guilty were put behind bars. And now we will have to share seats with Amarinder who went on record to say that he had personally seen complaints filed against 22 BJP supporters, who had fuelled violence, at Tughlak Road Police Station in 1984 anti-Sikh riots,” he said.