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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s tractor rally, Rawat placates Sidhu amid attempts to present ‘unified front’

From October 3 to 5, Rahul will participate in three tractor rallies to protest against the farm legislations in the Malwa region -- touted as the epicentre of the farmers’ protests.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | October 2, 2020 1:44:05 am
Harish Rawat comes home to a fractured state CongressRawat, who has been camping in Punjab and Chandigarh for the last three days, had visited Amritsar to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple on Thursday. (File)

TWO DAYS before former AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s tractor rallies begin in Punjab on October 3, Congress general secretary in-charge Harish Rawat managed to pacify former Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has distanced himself from the party, during a visit to Amritsar Thursday.

From October 3 to 5, Rahul will participate in three tractor rallies to protest against the farm legislations in the Malwa region — touted as the epicentre of the farmers’ protests.

Rawat, who has been camping in Punjab and Chandigarh for the last three days, had visited Amritsar to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple on Thursday. Sources said he invited Sidhu to Circuit House, and the latter came and met him. Later, Sidhu, in the presence of a few MLAs and Amritsar MP G S Aujla, invited Rawat to his (Sidhu’s) residence for dinner. The dinner meeting was going on till the filing of this report.

While Rawat was not available for comment, sources close to him said the meeting was successful and it is likely to end the deadlock between Sidhu and state Congress. “He will definitely participate in Rahul ji’s show,” said a source close to Rawat.
Sidhu had distanced himself from the party and had been staying away from all activities ever since he resigned from Cabinet in July last year. He was divested of the local bodies department by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh citing incompetence and non-performance. He was handed the power department instead, but refused to join office and resigned from Cabinet.

Sidhu had organised two parallel dharnas in the recent past without any Congress symbols. There was speculation that he appeared to be looking at an alternative front, supported by farmers and other political outfits.

Rawat had told The Indian Express two days ago that he will be a bridge between the CM and Sidhu, and make them sit across the table to bury the hatchet. Sidhu had not participated in the recent dharna organised by the party at Khatkar Kalan on the occasion of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary. Incidentally, the dharma was the first party programme of Rawat after he took over as Punjab Congress affairs in-charge. Sidhu had also skipped the CLP meeting headed by Rawat.

Sources indicated that Sidhu would be part of Rahul’s tractor rally. Rawat had indicated in the past that Sidhu would be given an important role in the party. But it is said that the CM has dug in his heels that Sidhu would not be PPCC chief, nor would he give him any other department other than power.

CONGRESS FACING ARDUOUS TASK

The ruling Congress is facing an arduous challenge of putting up a united face during Rahul’s rally. With the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) putting up a massive show in the state on Thursday, the party wants to leave no stone unturned to make Rahul’s rally a grand success, without an infighting marring it.

Considering that the dharna at Khatkar Kalan was skipped by not only Sidhu but also three MPs including Partap Bajwa, Shamsher Dullo and Manish Tewari, the party is working hard to get everyone on board.

Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said. “We are inviting everybody in Punjab Congress. Since Rahul ji is coming, everybody should shed their reservations and make his program a success. More so, because it is a protest for farmers’ cause.”

While Rawat placated Sidhu, sources said the state unit was actually working on approaching everybody. Dullo had given Rahul’s rally during Lok Sabha elections a miss and Bajwa may want to prove his point to Rahul that he would not accept the CM’s leadership in the next elections. Tewari has already declared on his Twitter account that he was quarantined after coming in contact with a Covid-19 case. He was among 23 Congress leaders who had written to party interim chief Sonia Gandhi seeking changes.

“Now, Sidhu is on board. We will try to get everybody make it a united dharna,” said a party leader.

The party has assigned Fatehgarh Sahib MP Dr Amar Singh and Patiala MP Preneet Kaur the task of mobilising leaders and workers and ensure the rally is a success. Rawat has been camping in Chandigarh for the same reason.

RAHUL TO TAKE DRIVING SEAT

Jakhar said Rahul would be driving a tractor with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Harish Rawat flanking him. “Rahul has earlier also driven a tractor.”

Amid concerns by security agencies, the party is wondering if they should get a bullet-proof tractor for Rahul. The state government has bullet-proof tractors dating back to the troubled days of militancy in the state. “We could use that, but it remains to be seen what king of message it conveys. But security is a concern since Punjab is on the boil due to farmers’ protests and some elements may try to create trouble with CM and Rahul on the same tractor in the open on the roads. The CM has been taking on separatist secessionist forces.”

Security forces did not allow Rahul to follow Punjab Congress’ plan of having 50 km rallies and cut the distance short to an average of 20 km. Now he will cover more than 50 kms, spread over three days, in various districts and constituencies, said a Punjab Congress spokesperson. The tractor rallies are scheduled for around 11 am all three days, amid strict Covid protocols.

The protest rally on Saturday (October 3), will cover 22 km, starting with a public meeting at Badhani Kalan (Nihal Singh Wala, Moga district), before moving through through Lopon (Nihal Singh Wala). The rally will then move into Jagraon (Ludhiana district), where it will be received at Chakar, Lakha and Manoke, culminating eventually in a public meeting Jattpura (Raikot, Ludhiana).

On Sunday (October 4), 20 km would be covered, beginning with a reception at Barnala Chowk, Sangrur, from where Rahul and his team will travel by car to Bhawanigarh for a public meeting, before embarking on tractors to Samana (Patiala district), where receptions will be held at Fatehgarh Chhana and Bahmna, before ending the day with a public meeting at grain market, Samana.

On Monday (October 5), the protest will begin from Dudhan Sadhan (Patiala district) with a public meeting, and the tractors will then travel 10 km to Pehowa Border, from where Team Rahul will enter Haryana, for a series of programmes there.

CONCERNS OVER EVENTS IN UP

With the UP police keeping Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi under arrest in a guest house, concerns mounted during the day that he may not be able to attend the state Congress’ programme. “He has been released and he is on way to Delhi. We hope he will be able to come. Otherwise, we have to take a call on whether to continue with the program or postpone it. Also, we are told he is hurt. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to come,” said a party leader.

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