The anti-tax dharnas staged by the Congress on Friday were as much Opposition versus the government as state party president Capt Amarinder Singh versus his detractors.
While on one hand,Amarinders call to the Opposition parties such as Sanjha Morcha and BSP to unite against SAD-BJP regime found no reciprocation,on the other,prominent Congress leaders demanding the PCC chiefs ouster too boycotted the protests.
Conspicuous by her absence was former leader of Opposition Rajinder Kaur Bhattal who did not attend the dharna in her home district Sangrur. Interestingly,her son-in-law Vikram Bajwa,who unsuccessfully contested the Sahnewal seat,was present at the dharna in Ludhiana alongside Amarinder.
AICC member Jagmeet Brar in the race for PCC presidents post was absent from the dharna at Muktsar where former MLA Kushaldeep Dhillon led the charge and brought in the numbers. Several former PCC presidents such as Shamsher Dullo (Ludhiana),Mohinder Kaypee (Jalandhar),Varinder Kataria (Fazilka) and HS Hanspal (Ludhiana) were also absent from dharnas in their respective districts.
Some diplomatic ones chose not to stay away. Gurdaspur MP Pratap Bajwa,another top contender for PCC presidents post,marked his presence in Gurdaspur. So did former MLA Sukhpal Khaira in Kapurthala. MLAs Randeep Nabha and Rakesh Pandey,seen as Bhattal confidants,too joined the protests as did some other sitting and defeated MLAs belonging to rival factions.
Since it was a protest against taxes imposed on the common man,it would have been unjustified not to attend them. However,since the protests were staged by Amarinder to showcase his streetfighter role before the party high command,we just marked our token presence, a senior leader said.
Another Amarinder-baiter claimed that the turnout in almost all districts,barring Ludhiana,was below 1,000. But the PCC chiefs team claimed impressive gathering at Ludhiana and respectable numbers elsewhere,including Jalandhar,where the Congress failed to clinch even a single seat.
Our call was for staging a dharna in front of DC office in each district and each MLA was asked to bring in 200 people. But we were able to bring in thousands,even where the party had no MLA. The response has shown that Amarinder is still the most charismatic and tallest Congress leader in the state, one of his close aides said.
Meanwhile,Amarinder who had checkmated his detractors by seeking support of other Opposition parties to the dharna,today made another strategic move. Despite Sanjha Morcha turning down his request,he welcomed their programme to protest against the government and pledged his support. Even if the PCC Chief marks token presence at the latters September 21 programme,the move will raise the heckles both within the ruling alliance and his rival camps.