Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi meeting Punjab MLAs this week to end the factional war in the state unit has only redrawn the battlelines. A majority of MLAs have shown solidarity with former chief minister and deputy leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh. Does it signal that Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa is on his way out? Not yet, Bajwa says in an interview to HT, adding that the Congress will have to unite on public demand and he will continue at the helm till he enjoys the confidence of the party high command.
How do you see the meetings of Rahul Gandhi with Punjab MLAs?
Bajwa: Several Punjab MLAs had been seeking time to meet Rahul Gandhi, so he decided to meet them. I knew about it. There is nothing unusual about the party high command holding consultations with MLAs, nor was it for the first time.
But a majority of MLAs chorused for a change of guard. They accused you of not being a team leader and following a divisive agenda.
I feel saddened by such accusations. I have always been available to the MLAs. I have never tried to undermine them. I have only nominated halqa incharges on seats where the defeated MLA had either defected or were not active so that we could win back those seats. Yet if there have been some shortcomings in my working, I am willing to rectify them.
Why do you think you failed to win the confidence of MLAs? Do you feel isolated?
Amarinder had been at the helm of party affairs in the Congress for over 15 years. As CM and Punjab Congress chief, he appointed ministers, chairmen of boards and corporations and trusts and built a team of loyalists over the years. Why should I feel isolated? Since Rahul met the MLAs in batches, some did not speak before the Amarinder loyalists but met Rahul separately to show their support for me. Even those who said they were with the party, not individuals, endorsed my leadership.
Does it not signal that the high command would heed the demand of MLAs?
If it were so, would Rahul schedule a rally in Punjab in March? Even when Amarinder was the chief minister, 38 of the 62 MLAs had gathered in Delhi demanding his ouster. They were all sent back.
Did your defeat in the Lok Sabha elections from Gurdaspur and Amarinder’s win from Amritsar against Arun Jaitley dent your leadership of the Punjab Congress?
I had not nurtured my constituency for over a year and a half as I was told by the Punjab incharge that I would not contest the elections. Though I lost, the Congress did better in Punjab than in neighbouring states. Nobody thought the Aam Aadmi Party would get 24.5% vote share. The AAP struck us like a tsunami.
Would the AAP not damage the Congress in Punjab if it takes Delhi?
Obviously it would. The Congress cannot let the AAP reap dividends of its infighting and anti-incumbency against the ruling SAD-BJP alliance.
Is the Moga rally not your show of strength in the factional war?
No, we are going to take on the anti-farmer agenda of the Narendra Modi government. The Congress cannot afford any more infighting. Had Amarinder invited me to his Lalkar rally at Amritsar, it would still be his rally, but we would have put up a united face. Even the crowd in the rally was shouting slogans for unity. We will have to unite on public demand. I will continue to work till the time I enjoy the confidence of the party leadership. And Amarinder should give me his blessings. firstname.lastname@example.org