The list for a reorganised Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee was meant to please all with its 300 names, including those of 14 vice-presidents, 35 general secretaries, 61 secretaries and 27 district chiefs besides 148 executive members. It has ended up leading to a revolt, marked by a series of resignations.
PCC president Partap Singh Bajwa has upset not only those he left out but also many he made executive members, allegedly to sideline them. Many of the executive members are loyal to former chief ministers Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, whose camps would have rather had them among the office-bearers. Those denied the posts they wanted have called Bajwa immature, besides accusing him of nepotism: his friends and members of his family are among the office-bearers. Also among those in plum posts are leaders whom their rivals accuse of having worked against party candidates in the last assembly elections.
At least two dozen party leaders named executive members have sent in their resignations; these include several former ministers such as Chaudhary Jagjit, Malkiat Birmi, Rakesh Pandey, Amarjit Samra and Chaudhary Santokh Singh.
The list was declared on December 27. Among the first voices of dissent were those of Kharar MLA Jagmohan Kang and Malti Thapar. Soon, Amarinder and Bhattal went to New Delhi where, along with union minister Perneet Kaur, they complained to Sonia Gandhi and Shakeel Ahmed, general secretary-in-charge of party affairs in Punjab.
Bajwa fuelled the fire when he announced the list had been prepared in consultation with district presidents and the high command and that it had the “stamp of Sonia”. Angry leaders called up the leadership in Delhi, leading to Shakeel Ahmed making an announcement that they were ready to include more names. The resignations continued nevertheless, while some leaders skipped the first meeting of the reorgainsed PCC Monday.
Ahmed, in fact, had left the disgruntled camps angrier than ever by tempering his assurance with a warning. He had expressed his displeasure at partymen going to the media over “their internal differences” and cautioned they would face action if they did not stop.
“If leaders who have (served) the party, are unhappy, they will make a noise,” said Amarinder Singh. “If Ahmed cannot do anything to iron out the differences, he should not be making such statements.” About the list, Amarinder said not one faction is happy with it. “There have been protests from all over and if the president is not able to keep his flock together, it is a failure.”
Among other critics, Kang has called Bajwa “selfish” and a “man of narrow means” and said it was unfortunate that the Congress was facing a revolt just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Bhattal, too, said the list could prove detrimental to the Congress in the polls.
Bajwa’s rivals have questioned how his wife Charanjit Kaur and brother Fateh Jang were made office-bearers when several heavyweights were left out.
Bajwa said Monday he will reach out to all leaders upset with the reorganisation. “I have already contacted a few and requested them not to be angry,” he said. He stressed his role was limited. “I want to make it clear that the PCC president is just a recommending authority. The lists were sent to the high command and cleared by Rahul Gandhi and finally by Sonia Gandhi,” he said.
“I also want to say that certain people have problems because we have presented a younger team for the betterment of Congress,” Bajwa said.
The inclusion of inexperienced leaders among the office-bearers is one of the bones of contention, apart from the alleged rebels who had worked against party candidates. The Bajwa camp calls the new leaders the young faces of the party and says the Congress had to eliminate the “deadwood” and bring in new people who could deliver, leaders who could ensure a fight against the SAD-BJP.