A year ahead of Assembly polls in Punjab and amid indications that AAP is making major inroads into the state, Congress on Friday inducted Manpreet Badal, an estranged nephew of CM Parkash Singh Badal. The party also made it clear that Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh would be the party’s face in the Assembly polls, virtually projecting him as CM candidate. The Congress has adopted Manpreet’s 11-point agenda which is similar to that of AAP and promises to end VIP culture, nepotism and favouritism in government functioning.
Asked who will lead the party into the election, general secretary and chairman of the campaign committee, Ambika Soni, said, “Captain Amarinder Singh will be the face of the Congress campaign.” Asked if he will be CM if the party is voted to power, she said, “How can I say that now? He will be the face of the campaign. You draw your own conclusions.”
Manpreet, who merged his People’s Party of Punjab with Congress, has been in political wilderness for long. AAP had tried to woo him, but things did not move owing to resistance from local AAP leaders. Congress, on the other hand, wanted to build a narrative that people are flocking to it and that the mood is shifting in its favour, given the fact that several Congress leaders, including spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira, joined AAP recently.
We are happy that the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) under Manpreet Singh Badal has today merged with INC: @Ahmad_Shakeel
— INC India (@INCIndia) January 15, 2016
Interestingly, Amarinder, who took the initiative to bring Manpreet into the Congress fold, had opposed joining hands with him in 2012.
Manpreet does not have a significant vote bank — he could win only 5 per cent votes in 2012 — but is seen as a serious politician who has taken principled stands in politics. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has met him thrice in the recent past and sources said it was Rahul who convinced him to join Congress. Interestingly, Congress lost in 2007 by a margin of 1 per cent and in 2012 by a margin of .1 per cent votes. In 2012, it was Manpreet who divided the anti-Akali Dal votes, leading to the Congress defeat.
Manpreet said, “We submitted an 11-point memorandum to him (Rahul) and Congress has accepted all those points. They told me that not only do they agree with this agenda, but this was the agenda of Congress and they will carry it forward.” It also speaks of “ending the stranglehold” of a few individuals and families on the state’s natural resources and combating the drug menace.
“We feel that Congress will be a good platform and actually the right and only platform from which this agenda could be pursued and achieved,” said Manpreet.
Accepting that AAP had approached him, he said, “but they did not have a blueprint to actually turn around Punjab.”
Before the announcement, Rahul had a meeting with Manpreet, general secretary in-charge of Punjab Shakeel Ahmed, Soni, Amarinder and his predecessor Partap Singh Bajwa who was called for the press meet to project that the party is united.
Meanwhile, Amarinder attacked the AAP, saying it was “totally inexperienced” and warned that Punjab will “not get back on its feet if AAP comes to power after 10 years of total ruination by SAD-BJP”.