After a brief lull in the tug of war over leadership, the Punjab Congress is set to see parallel campaigns by party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh and state president Partap Singh Bajwa in July.
The battle between the two leaders seems to be going the Haryana way where former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and state Congress president Ashok Tanwar had recently embarked on parallel campaigns.
Amarinder is likely to make an announcement regarding his programme after his June 25 meeting with former MLAs and senior party leaders in Jalandhar. He had last week hosted a lunch for party MLAs and the event saw a huge turnout.
The former Patiala royal, whose love for cool environs of Himachal during the summer months is no secret, was prevailed upon by his trusted lieutenants to brave the heat and dust of Punjab to counter Bajwa, who launched his mass contact programme in the first week of June to cover 34 reserved seats in the state. Bajwa had also claimed that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi would join his statewide padyatra scheduled from October 2.
Bajwa’s activism had sent the Amarinder camp into a huddle. His loyalists were finally able to convince Amarinder to seek a meeting with Rahul, whose elevation to the party presidency was openly opposed by Captain on grounds of "timing". Amarinder's meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul on June 8 was followed by a show of strength through a luncheon meeting last week when a majority of MLAs hailed his leadership and asked him to lead the party from the front by meeting party workers and voters.
The second meeting with former MLAs and senior leaders on June 25 will be used as a platform to announce that Amarinder has decided to hit the road on demand of his partymen.
"Amarinder’s public meetings will also show how Bajwa’s rallies pale in comparison to his in terms of numbers. There are just a handful of non-descript leaders turning up for Bajwa's meetings. Is this the way Congress will be revived in the state? The party rank and file is in fact being further demoralised," an MLA close to Amarinder said.
Gurdaspur Congress district president and Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa said Amarinder is all set to launch a campaign from July against the "misrule" of the Badals. "They are unable to govern the state. Criminals are freeing criminals. The coffers of the state are empty and the procurement of foodgrains has been hit badly. The Congress will be finished if we do not take to the streets. It is the opposition's job to highlight the lawlessness and other issues confronting the state. The Badals will not launch a stir against themselves. Amarinder has to rise to the occasion and assure the people of the state that the Congress will rid them of misrule of the dynasty," Randhwa said.
Bajwa, when contacted, refused to comment on Amarinder's plans. "Let them hold the meeting on June 25 and announce their campaign. Why should I react now," he said. Amarinder did not respond to repeated calls and messages.