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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The crisis in Punjab Congress: how rebellion brewed, what’s being done

Despite a brute majority in the Punjab Assembly with 80 seats out of 117, the state Congress has been struggling against rebellion lately. The crisis comes ahead of Assembly elections due in early 2022. What is the crisis about?

Written by Kanchan Vasdev , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 17, 2021 9:31:29 am
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh after a meeting with a three-member committee of the Congress, in New Delhi on June 4, 2021. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

The Congress party has a brute majority in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha with 80 seats in the 117-member assembly. But the infighting within the Punjab unit has now come out in the open. A couple of party members rebelled against the Chief Minister, especially after the government lost the sensitive Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura firing cases in the High Court that quashed its Special Investigation Team’s report and asked the government to constitute another SIT. The HC’s judgment on the issue sparked off a row with many Congress leaders criticising the government led by Captain Amarinder Singh. PPCC president Sunil Jakhar and Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa even offered to resign at a Cabinet meeting over the issue.

Randhawa buried the hatched with party leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, giving an indication that they may get together against the CM. Sidhu has already been vocal against the CM, accusing him of quid pro quo with the Akalis. A few MLAs and ministers also sided with the rebel camp. This prompted the AICC chief Sonia Gandhi to constitute a committee led by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

What has the committee done?

The committee, after listening to about 150 leaders including ministers, MLAs, MPs, leaders of frontal organisations and others, submitted a report to the AICC chief. It heard Amarinder also, who according to committee member JP Aggarwal explained all the points raised by the partymen. The committee has recommended that Navjot Sidhu should be given a role and the party structure should be reorganised. The AICC is yet to start any action on the report.

Was the HC’s quashing of SIT the only issue?

No. Resentment was brewing in the Congress soon after the party came back to power in the state. The rumblings had started when the government fulfilled its first promise of extending farm debt waiver to farmers. The government gave away Rs 5,000 crore but the political leaders alleged that the benefit was transferred without letting the political class take credit. The money was directly transferred into the account of the farmers. The party leaders have been alleging that the bureaucrats had decided about the beneficiaries while they were the ones who had to face elections. From the first year of the government, the party cadres have been rueing that the bureaucrats were running the government and the political leaders were ignored.

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What are the other issues? 

There has been resentment against the Chief Minister not taking action against Badals in the police firing after the Bargari sacrilege incident. The party leadership has been rueing that there is a perception gaining ground that the CM had a quid pro quo with the former chief minister’s family. Another major issue is the report of STF on drugs not being made public. It was submitted to the High Court by the STF chief three years ago in an envelope. The envelope has not been opened yet. The leaders hold the legal department responsible for not pursuing the case properly as the government wanted to protect some leader of the SAD named in the drug racket. There are other issues of not cancelling the controversial Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) that end up making power very expensive in the state. The leaders have also been accusing the chief minister of inaccessibility.

What is the row about dossiers on party colleagues by the CM? 

There have been reports about the CM taking dossiers on over two dozen MLAs to the committee. The dossiers expose the alleged involvement of his party colleagues in sand mining business, liquor trade, transport business and land grab cases. While Captain Amarinder had indicated in a Vidhan Sabha session that he had reports on all his party legislators, he denied having prepared any dossiers recently.

What is the way forward for Congress? 

After the Punjab Congress raised the issues publicly, the chief minister’s camp has won back a few leaders. A number of Lok Sabha MPs have extended their support. After the inaccessibility allegation, the CM came out of his farm house and started meeting partymen  at his official residence. Navjot Sidhu, after having launched a tirade against the CM on his Twitter, has been keeping quiet lately. His aide and former hockey Olympian Pargat Singh has, however, hit out at the CM two days ago daring him to make public the dossiers. The rebels have been saying they are waiting for Sonia Gandhi to act before they take further action. It remains to be seen how Gandhi will tackle the crisis, and whether Sidhu and other dissenters would be silenced or they will keep the heat on against the party in the run up to the Assembly election in state in early 2022.

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