From close friends to bitter foes, the 21-year-old relationship between Punjab CM Amarinder Singh (78) and former PPCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa (63) has seen the equation between the two shift diametrically. The latest act has been Bajwa raising the banner of revolt against the CM after over 100 deaths due to illicit liquor consumption in the state.
Only two days ago, Bajwa met Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore to demand a CBI probe against the state government over the hooch tragedy. The incumbent PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar hit back by demanding Bajwa’s ouster from the party.
But it wasn’t like that in the early days of Amarinder-Bajwa friendship that dates back to 1999 when Bajwa was appointed general secretary to the then PPCC chief Amarinder. From then on till 2013, when Bajwa rebelled against Amarinder for the first time, the story of their relationship had not seen any downs. But cracks had started developing after Congress lost Punjab Assembly elections in 2012 for the second time in a row.
Prior to that, their closeness could be gauged from the fact that Bajwa was inducted in Amarinder’s Cabinet as number three minister during his (Amarinder’s) first stint as CM from 2002 to 2007, and given an important department of PWD.
“We were together every single day, shared our interest in history,” recalls Bajwa. The duo were together even during their overseas travels to Canada, UK, Dubai and Pakistan.
A source close to the two from that time said that Amarinder, a connoisseur of food who is also fond of cooking, “even cooked dum aloo for friend Bajwa as both shared anecdotes and laughter together”.
But the friendship came to an end when Bajwa rebelled against Amarinder when the party lost Moga bypoll in 2013, a year after losing Assembly election under Amarinder’s leadership in 2012. Bajwa blamed Amarinder squarely for the party’s failures, one after the other.
“Amarinder was not able to forgive Bajwa because he was considered close to him and yet he was the one to open a front against him. Bajwa was among those persons, who could walk in to Amarinder’s house anytime. He enjoyed his immense confidence. Now, he considers him a back-stabber,” said an aide of the CM.
Soon after Bajwa’s rebellion, the party high command named him the next PPCC president replacing Amarinder. “This did not go down well with Amarinder. I went to his house seeking his support. He told me he would watch my work for two months and then see,” Bajwa claims, adding: “But he never liked me taking on the baton from him.”
On his rebellion against Amarinder in the first place, Bajwa said, “I call a spade a spade. If someone is not working and we lose an election, I would say that in as many words.”
Their relationship worsened after Bajwa was named the PPCC president in 2013. While Amarinder continued to be pushed to the fringes for a year, with partymen deserting him and joining the Bajwa camp, he started rebelling against Bajwa’s leadership by organising parallel party programmes in Punjab. Their high-octane battle for one-upmanship continued for about two years and this infighting led the party to replace Bajwa with Amarinder in December 2015, two years before the Assembly election.
In the run up to this, Bajwa, who enjoyed the then AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s complete support, suffered Amarinder’s bashing, who once called Bajwa a blind man. He even stated publicly that had the party high command asked him for a suggestion, he would have suggested a capable name. Rahul stood behind Bajwa like a rock, but had to finally give up in the face of Amarinder’s rebellion and with a number of party leaders rallying behind Amarinder.
Bajwa, despite being considered a hard working PPCC chief who had been taking the battle to the then SAD-BJP regime in the streets, could not fight Amarinder’s popularity among party colleagues. After Amarinder took over as CM for the second time in 2017, Bajwa claims that he was pushed to the sidelines further. While he was accommodated as Rajya Sabha member, sources say, he was promised the post of a chairman for his wife. But she was not accommodated anywhere, and neither were Bajwa’s aides.
“I have not sought anything. I got tickets to five leaders who became MLAs. They have not done anything against the government,” said Bajwa, who calls his relationship with Amarinder a tale of deceit.
He added: “After he took over from me and became the president, I worked for the party. But he is not a democrat. When he needed me, he came to my house in Chandigarh and Qadian. I made an announcement at the public rally, where Amarinder was announced to be the next party chief that I have no qualms about helping the party come to power. I had forgiven him. I showed a big heart. I was magnanimous. I went for his oath taking ceremony, with my wife and son. But he cold-shouldered me. I realised he was a changed man. I repented for my mistake and vowed that I would never go to his house or to him again and I never went. I have never even gone to the secretariat to get any work done. I spent 10 years in opposition from 2007 to 2017 and again I am spending these five years as if I do not belong to this party. He was not magnanimous. He is feudal. He thinks he is a blue blood and it is his birth right to rule. He wants commoners like me to massage his ego. I have not sought anything from him. But nobody can ask me to keep my mouth shut.”
With rivalry becoming a larger part of their relationship over the years, it is Bajwa’s turn to open front against Amarinder once again. He has been criticising Amarinder and his government in public quite often especially after Amarinder announced that he was in the running for 2022 elections. Congress leaders feel that at 63, Bajwa sees next Assembly election as his only chance to contest Punjab elections otherwise he may miss the bus. Also, his Rajya Sabha membership would also come to an end then.
After Bajwa’s latest tirade, PPCC president Sunil Jakhar has complained to AICC interim president Sonia Gandhi likening him to Sachin Pilot. As the latest act in infighting unfolds in the party and the two major players refuse to budge even after seven years, it remains to be seen how the high command handles it.
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