A majority of the Congress leaders from the Majha region stayed away during former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh's visit to a couple of grain markets in Amritsar district on Tuesday.
The former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief was here to extend support to farmers who are facing problems in selling their paddy and basmati produce.
He was accompanied by the party's Raja Sansi MLA Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, who recently invited the Congress high command's ire for his open criticism of current PPCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa. It was Sarkaria who organised the Captain's visit to the mandis.
On the absence of senior leaders of Majha, Amarinder said, "No invitations were sent. I meet local leaders wherever I go and interact with workers who come there."
He did address party workers, most of whom had been ferried by Sarkaria to the grain market here. With a majority of those present being farmers, the Captain said it was unfortunate that the Punjab government had turned its back on their problems related to paddy procurement, even as he assured them that he would take up the matter with the union food ministry.
Clean chit to Sarkaria
Though Sarkaria's case is still pending with the All India Congress Committee (AICC), Amarinder chose to give his staunch loyalist the 'clean chit' by declaring that the matter was closed.
"He (Sarkaria) had grievances with the party leadership, which he had highlighted. Now, the matter is closed," he declared while talking to the media at the local Bhagtawala grain market.
However, when contacted, Bajwa told HT on the phone, "Sarkaria's case is still pending before the AICC. He has got no clean chit."
Besides Sarkaria, the party leaders who were there to welcome Amarinder included Tarn Taran district Congress committee (DCC) chief Dr Dharamveer Agnihotri and Attari assembly constituency incharge Tarsem Singh DC. Both leaders have lost two successive assembly polls. Another leader present was Ashwani Kumar Pappu, a staunch supporter of former union minister Ashwani Kumar.
When asked about his absence, PPCC vice-president and Majha incharge OP Soni said, "I was away from the city and got back late in the afternoon." In fact, this was the reply given by all senior leaders who were later contacted by HT.
However, Soni made it clear that there were no orders from anyone on 'ignoring' Amarinder, who commenced his own parallel tour from the Doaba region on Monday. His tour is mainly centred around meeting party workers and expressing his party's solidarity with farmers, who are awaiting procurement of their paddy in mandis.
Besides the local mandi, Amarinder also visited the grain market at Bhakna village and at Attari. He also met party workers over lunch at the residence of Manjit Singh Daoke at Attari.
Defends Raninder's invite to Majithia
Amarinder defended son Raninder Singh's invite to revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia for a shooting event being hosted by the Punjab Rifle Shooting Association.
"Majithia was invited in his capacity as the president of the host association. Remember that Majithia had lost to Raninder in the election to the president of the National Rifle Shooting Association," he added.
He refused to draw a parallel between the invite to Majithia and the cricket match that was held between Akali-BJP and Congress MLAs in 2007. Amarinder had taken then Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal to task for having agreed to play the match at a time when the Akalis were indulging in political vendetta against Congress workers.
Asked whether he had any 'secret understanding' with the Akalis, as was being claimed by certain sections in his party, he quipped, "It was I who took on the Akalis and went after them with a 'danda' (stick). I have been fighting these (Akali) people for the past 20 years."
Refusing to take the entire blame for the wrong choice of party candidates in some constituencies during the 2012 assembly polls, Amarinder said, "The PPCC sent the names to the party high command, which finalised the list of candidates."
'No parallel campaign'
Amarinder denied that his current tour was a parallel campaign. He pointed out that during his tenure as PPCC chief, senior leaders such as Jagmeet Singh Brar and Bhattal had undertaken similar tours to meet party workers.
"I fully agree with Bajwa that unity in the party is very vital," he said.
He described his tour as a 'jagriti' (awareness) campaign in the build-up to the Lok Sabha polls, when the entire rank and file of the party would move forward together.
Conspicuous by absence
Congress leaders from Majha who were not present during Amarinder's visit on Tuesday included PPCC vice-president and Majha incharge OP Soni, MLAs Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Aruna Chaudhary, besides Amritsar district Congress committee (DCC, rural) president Harpartap Singh Ajnala and Amritsar DCC (urban) president Jugal Kishore Sharma