It’s an all-out war within the Congress in this Lok Sabha segment and the mood among voters is of nagging unease. Five years ago, when the “son of the soil” Partap Singh Bajwa had put on the mat the BJP’s “inaccessible MP”, Bollywood star Vinod Khanna, the picture had brightened up for the Congress. But now, there is an undefined dissatisfaction in the party’s ranks for not getting adequate attention from Bajwa, and the voters are seething silently, boosting the BJP’s spirits.
With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, voters as well as political observers are arguing and analysing whether the first-time MP, who also dons the mantle of the Punjab Congress chief, was any different from his predecessor. Or, whether he, too, furthered his political ambitions while putting on the backburner the expectations and aspirations of his constituents and the Congress cadre.
The electorate’s grouse against three-time BJP MP Khanna, who used to “appear” in Gurdaspur after staying away for long spells, had contributed considerably to Bajwa winning by a thin margin of 8,342 votes. However, the voters are visibly disenchanted with Bajwa for “remaining inaccessible.”
Even within the vicinity of his ancestral house in Qadian along Satnam Singh Bajwa Marg, residents pour out their anger instead of showering praise. “I am a traditional Congressman. Bajwa and his wife don’t meet people,” complains Ram Lal, a resident of ward No 10. Baldev Singh, a shopkeeper and Bajwa’s next-door neighbour, says: “He comes here rarely… once in a month for a day. Election ke time hi milte hain.”
This sentiment is reflected in other areas also. Kanta Devi, sarpanch of Bhagatpura Rabbowala, and Preetam Lal Bhagat, sarpanch of Patti Bhagatpur, claimed that they switched to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) due to Bajwa. “Since the days of my great grandfather, we were Congress supporters and actively campaigned for Bajwa in the parliamentary elections. After he won, I kept knocking at his door for a month to greet him on his victory. I could not meet him. So, we joined the SAD,” says Kanta’s husband.
Not maintaining cordial political links with frontline local leaders and the inability to translate tall poll promises into reality are among the major issues haunting Bajwa’s spin doctors.
But for all his failures, Bajwa, 57, pointedly blames chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for “scuttling every project”, whether it was setting up of the rail coach factory at Kalanaur; turning into reality the sanctioned railway line between Qadian and Beas; or Central University in Pathankot, where government land was available. “Had Badal played a positive role, the rail coach factory would have been set up at Kalanaur instead of Haryana,” Bajwa said.
Inside the Lok Sabha, the PPCC chief made his presence felt. A peep into his Lok Sabha records clearly indicates that Bajwa used this platform effectively to raise Punjab-centric issues. Among the many issues he highlighted were: one rank, one pension; financial assistance to Punjab farmers; need to enact the Anand Marriage (amendment) Bill; need to formulate an effective employment scheme for the youth residing in border areas, particularly in Punjab; need to set up Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur corridor; and setting up a multi-superspeciality hospital for cancer treatment in Gurdaspur.
The mere mention of Bajwa evokes strong reactions not only among voters but also senior Congress leaders of this parliamentary seat (barring his MLA wife Charanjit Kaur). The leaders, including certain MLAs, describe him in various ways: “He is not a dependable person… Bahut jhoot bolta hai (he tells lies a lot).”
According to Congress leader Raman Bahl, who lost to the SAD candidate from Gurdaspur in the 2012 assembly elections, “Bajwa made an honest effort to set up the rail coach factory at Kalanaur and turn into reality the Qadian rail link. All his poll promises and projects could not materialise due to dirty politics played by the SAD.”
The way Bajwa has distributed funds under the MPLAD (member of Parliament local area development) scheme has become a hot-button issue. Vinod Khanna says, “I got three big bridges made, got railway stations renovated and rail links expanded, revived the Dhaliwal mill and had distributed the MPLAD fund equally in all nine assembly segments. What has Bajwa done? People are saying that he has spent the maximum in Qadian.”
According to a seasoned Congress MLA, “I don’t even know to which part of my segment Bajwa sanctioned money or not. He doesn’t keep us in the loop.” And this is the common refrain of a majority of the party leaders.
In the nine assembly segments of this LS seat, the Congress has five MLAs, the BJP three and the SAD one. Batala assembly segment had played a major role in Bajwa’s victory by giving him the maximum lead of 12,712 votes. But Bajwa has so far released just `37 lakh to this segment from his MPLAD fund.
Having ostensibly judged the public pulse, it is in this backdrop that the state Congress chief is shying away from jumping into the upcoming battle of the ballot.
Tomorrow part 3 of 34:
Deepender Hooda, Rohtak