Though Congress leaders of Majha belt, including Punjab unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa, have chosen to maintain a stoic silence over the resignation of Ashwani Kumar from the union cabinet, they are definitely not saddened by the ouster of the only representative from their region in the central government.
A number of senior Congress leaders of the region, including MLAs, did not mince words in criticising the former law minister's dealings with party leaders and workers. While some described his ouster as "good riddance", others felt that he should not have been made a minister in the first place.
They claimed that he rarely interacted with senior party leaders from the area and stayed away from party programmes at the district and block levels. During his visits to Gurdaspur, Kumar was rarely seen in the company of party MLAs or senior leaders and never cared to inform the Gurdaspur district Congress committee of his meetings or programmes.
No wonder that during one of his rare visits to Batala last year, local Congressmen expressed displeasure over no information or invitation to them for a function at which Kumar was the chief guest. This led to sloganeering against the then union minister by Congress leaders of Batala who accused him of ignoring them. The only time he did make his presence felt was at the election rallies addressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
His passive role in the last assembly election in Punjab was also not to the liking of party colleagues. The only reason for this perhaps could be that he did not ask for tickets for his supporters. The lone ticket he sought was for his confidant, Ashwani Kumar Pappu, an Amritsar-based leader who has only fought municipal elections. Pappu was given the Congress ticket from Amritsar North constituency, shocking not only senior leaders but also a majority of Amritsar-based workers who could not believe that the high command had given the ticket to a person "who did not enjoy a good reputation" in the holy city.
In a damage-control exercise, Pappu's ticket was cancelled and Kumar had no option but to accept the decision of the party leadership since he knew that no one would come forward to support him.
The disliking for Ashwani Kumar could be gauged from another incident involving Pappu. When Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa took over as Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief and visited Amritsar, Pappu attempted to get onto his vehicle. This provoked Bajwa who shouted at Pappu and even brandished a stick. Such was the treatment meted out to the man perceived the closest to the union minister.
Wary of close ties with PM
The Congress leaders were also wary of Ashwani Kumar's "closeness" to the Prime Minister. They felt that Kumar did not use this proximity for ensuring central funds for the development of the Majha region or for a centrally-sponsored project. Instead, they viewed this proximity with suspicion as many felt that Kumar used it against senior state Congress leaders whom he did not like.
Whatever little respect Ashwani enjoyed was because of his father, the late Prabodh Chander, a former speaker and minister, who also represented Gurdaspur in the Lok Sabha. Even he was always referred to as a 'Delhiite' and never a 'Gurdaspuri'.
One election wonder
A rootless leader, Ashwani Kumar only contested one election: the Lok Sabha poll in 1985 as a candidate of the Tewari Congress. He got just 18,000 votes and lost his security deposit. However, despite being aware of the disliking for Kumar in his home state, the Prime Minister took him into the Cabinet. Elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002 after the sudden death of former union minister Sukhbans Kumar Bhinder, Kumar again made it to the Upper House in 2005 and 2010.
He became the union minister of state for commerce and industry in 2006 and was given the portfolio of minister of state for planning, parliamentary affairs, science and technology and earth sciences in 2011.
Congressmen remember that he made a promise to set up a Rs. 80-crore research and development facility at Batala for the industry, which is in dire straits. This lone promise has not been fulfilled till date.
Fifth union minister from belt draws blank
Ashwani Kumar is the fifth politician from the Majha belt to make it to the union ministry. The first was Surjit Singh Majithia, the first Amritsar MP of independent India, followed by stalwart Gurdial Singh Dhillon, who represented Tarn Taran constituency. Dhillon had a good stint as Lok Sabha speaker and also held various union ministries in the cabinet of Indira Gandhi.
Others who held important union ministries included RL Bhatia and Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. The only non-Congress minister at the Centre was former Gurdaspur MP and cine star Vinod Khanna in the Vajpayee government.
While all these ministers made it to Parliament through the Lok Sabha, Ashwani Kumar did so via the Upper House.
They all made contributions for the development of the region. However, Kumar has nothing to show to his credit.