After two years, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi once again comes calling to Punjab in the same month and amid similar sentiments. While in October 2012, there was a chorus to change the then Punjab Congress chief, Capt Amarinder Singh, after two successive defeats at the hustings and his “coterie-centric” style of functioning, this October, it is incumbent Partap Singh Bajwa who is battling intense factionalism after his own defeat and the party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha polls besides his “autocratic” way of working.
Though on the face of it, Rahul’s meeting with the party’s rank and file on Thursday is to rev them up for the upcoming municipal council polls, it is being seen as Bajwa’s counter-offensive to Amarinder openly demanding his removal. The Captain’s loyalists are questioning the timing of the party vice-president’s visit two days before the poll verdict in Haryana and Maharashtra where incumbent Congress regimes are seemingly on their way out.
However, Bajwa, who is busy making arrangements for Rahul’s meetings at the Congress Bhawan, along with secretary in-charge Harish Chaudhary, said not much should be read into the timing as Rahul had been thinking of visiting Punjab for quite some time and was coming to make an important announcement for the state.
Behind Rahul’s show of “solidarity” for the beleaguered chief is the fact that Bajwa was one of the first political appointments made by him after taking charge as party vice-president and he also represents the generational shift Rahul wants to usher in into the party across the country. Hammered by opponents for a string of defeats in the Lok Sabha elections and the Talwandi Sabo bypoll, Bajwa is learnt to have conveyed to Rahul the growing “indiscipline” in the party and attempts to “sabotage” his bid to revitalise the party’s dormant cells, frontal organisations and district- and block-level committees.
With many party MLAs raising a banner of revolt against Bajwa at a recent meeting of the Congress Legislature Party for making political appointments in their constituencies without taking them into confidence, the MLAs have been given time to meet Rahul only along with the extended PPCC, including office-bearers, heads of frontal organisations, various cells, former PPCC chiefs, members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and AICC from Punjab besides the three MPs, including Amarinder, whose presence would depend on the health of his mother.
Some support for him
While he faces dissidence at home, both Chaudhary and general secretary in-charge, Shakeel Ahmed, besides some MLAs and leaders who are opposed to the Captain, are rallying behind Bajwa.
“Rahul wants the young Turks to take over the reins of the party in all states. It will be no different in Punjab. Amarinder was taken to Delhi to bring him out of Punjab politics and he cannot reverse this generational shift,” a Bajwa loyalist said. Though all is quiet in the Amarinder camp owing to Rahul’s visit, his loyalists claim Bajwa will gain little by such an “endorsement”.
“The popular sentiment is against Bajwa. He will not be able to increase his shelf life by getting Rahul’s backing or creating a parallel army of loyalist office-bearers. He stands isolated and the high command would be doing a disservice to the party’s prospects in Punjab by letting him continue as the state chief. The chips of the Congress are already down. Bajwa is not clicking with the masses and is a losing bet for the party in Punjab at a time when the Akali-BJP alliance is in the doldrums and Punjab’s pollscape is likely to change dramatically by the 2017 state elections,” one of Bajwa’s detractors said.
His rejuvenation plan
The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee would enroll nearly 2.5 lakh members across the 117 constituencies in the state, Bajwa said.
There would be 1,100 members in each block and 2,200 in each assembly constituency -- going by the average of two blocks per assembly segment. “While the state executive will meet once a month, the DCC members will meet on the first Saturday of every month, including sitting and former MLAs and MPs of the area.
An attendance register would be maintained and those marked absent for three times in a row would invite disciplinary action. Both the district and block committees will also be given programmes to launch agitation against the government.
Members of district and block committees will also make a voluntary donation of Rs 100 a month to maintain the Congress office, including the rent, secretarial staff, refreshments, etc.
This would help inculcate a sense of belonging to the party,” Bajwa added.