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Battle of Punjab Congress chiefs past and present

The battle had been brewing since the change of guard in March

Written by Sukhdeep Kaur | Chandigarh | Published: August 27, 2013 1:07:26 am

At a time the Punjab Congress president is trying to set himself on his feet by embarking on a statewide tour to “boost the morale of party workers”,his predecessor has hit out at him for “divisive politics”. Last week,the latter had announced his own Punjab tour in September to “revive” the party.

The battle had been brewing since the change of guard in March,when outgoing chief Captain Amarinder Singh,a former chief minister,had expressed his disapproval of the appointment of Partap Singh Bajwa. “If consulted,I would have suggested a different successor.” Soon after the appointment,the high command clipped Bajwa’s wings by appointing four vice-presidents and asking him to withdraw a few early appointments he had made.

Bajwa has since been trying to assert his authority. Overruling two vice-presidents and leader of the opposition Sunil Jakhar,he recently submitted his own list of office-bearers for the PCC state executive and appointed five spokespersons.

What sparked a full-blown war of words,however,was Bajwa using a public meeting to announce the candidates for the Sangrur Lok Sabha and assembly seats. The assembly ticket had been hotly contested last year between businessman Arvind Khanna,an Amarinder aide who was eventually allotted the neighbouring seat of Dhuri and won,and Surinderpal Sibia,a loyalist of Amarinder’s rival Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and who has found a new ally in Bajwa.

Sibia lost Sangrur and blamed Khanna for teaming up with SAD president Sukhbir Badal and footing Amarinder’s “royal” expenses. Khanna openly says he has no wish to contest the parliamentary seat but his keenness on the assembly seat is well known. Sangrur MP Vijay Inder Singla has switched loyalties to Bajwa since the change of guard.

On Saturday,Amarinder issued a press statement questioning Bajwa’s authority to announce candidates and reminding him of his limited powers as a state president. Bajwa has responded that he is answerable only to the high command.

On Sunday,Amarinder held a show of strength by hosting a lunch for sitting and defeated MLAs,district presidents and Youth Congress and NSUI leaders. It set the Bajwa camp on a series of calls to the invitees,asking them to skip the event and show solidarity with the new chief. Bajwa,whom his own close aides describe as mistrustful,and whose small camp comprise mostly fence-sitters,is said to have made the MLAs take a loyalty pledge.

The Bajwa camp has called the Amarinder lunch a flop show,putting the number of MLAs who attended at nine out of 45,including Amarinder himself and Jakhar,who is open about where his loyalties lie. Jakhar and Bajwa have in the last few weeks been locked in a battle for credit over meeting Sonia Gandhi,the PM and union ministers to highlight issues confronting Punjab.

Amarinder has now advised Bajwa to go to Delhi to learn the extent of his jurisdiction. “When I as party president announced all sitting MLAs would get tickets during last year’s polls,I was summoned to Delhi and reminded by the party president that it was her prerogative. I am reminding Bajwa of this,” he said. Bajwa hit back,“I am answerable only to the high command and do not want to join issue with him.”

“Bajwa has to learn to take people along. He cannot put up one against the other,” Amarinder said. “I have been 43 years in politics. Bajwa was perhaps in primary school then. I have my own constituency and will tour Punjab to meet them or host them at home.”

General secretary-in-charge of Punjab Shakeel Ahmed has said,“From what I know,Bajwa only recommended the names of candidates,which is well within his authority. We will sort out the differences by meeting the two leaders,who have been called to Delhi after the Parliament session.”

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