Trouble is again brewing in the faction-ridden Punjab Congress after the unity lesson by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in October had silenced dissenting voices for the time being. The bid by Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa to create his own “B-team” has ruffled the feathers of sitting and former MLAs in many assembly segments, fuelling more infighting ahead of the municipal elections in the state.
Following in the footsteps of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Bajwa has appointed “halqa-incharges” in the assembly segments the Congress lost in the 2012 state polls, thereby propping them as contenders for 2017. Attributing making of the “B-team” to Bajwa’s ambition of becoming the chief minister, his detractors allege that it comprises those who rebelled against or opposed the party’s official candidates, are turncoats or the ones with “little or no political standing”.
In Baba Bakala, for instance, party rebel Baljit Singh Bhatti, who was expelled in January 2012 for opposing party candidate Ranjit Singh Chajjalwadi, is now looking after the party affairs while Chajjalwadi stands sidelined. In Talwandi Sabo, Harminder Singh Jassi has been left high and dry after losing the bypoll and another contender, Khushbaz Jattana, has gained prominence.
Likewise, Jagdarshan Kaur has been appointed halqa incharge in Jagroan and Bhupinder Singh Gora for Maur. In Gurdaspur, Bajwa’s younger brother Fateh Bajwa has opened office and announced to contest, raising the hackles of former MLA Raman Bahl, who says Bajwa has failed to take people along. “He is sidelining traditional leaders with roots in Congress to win over loyalists. He has yet to prove himself as a leader of the masses like former CM Capt Amarinder Singh.”
Even those rewarded by Bajwa for loyalty are also complaining. In Faridkot, district Congress committee president and MLA Joginder Singh says Dhanjeet Singh has been made halqa incharge despite opposing him during elections. “I had complained against Dhanjeet to a panel led by former union minister AK Antony for opposing me during the recent parliamentary polls,” says Joginder.
Former Faridkot MLA Kushaldeep Dhillon, who Bajwa had appointed as general secretary in the state executive, too, has fallen out of favour with him and is back with his bete noire Amarinder Singh.
In Dina Nagar, turncoat Joginder Chinna embraced the SAD even after being appointed general secretary by Bajwa, while in Batala, Nitin Sharma, the man thrown out of the party for misbehaving with MLA Ashwani Sekhri, has been brought back. The appointments of block observers in many other segments, too, have not gone done well with the Congress MLAs.
With many old-timers being rubbed the wrong way, former CM Capt Amarinder Singh has again questioned Bajwa’s style of working. “This is no way to run a party. It is foolish. If he thinks he can win elections by playing games and destroying senior leaders and appointing new people, he is sadly mistaken,” Amarinder said.
Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar is also not happy over these “arbitrary” appointments as he says, “The need of the hour is that the leadership should carry everybody along. We have already lost twice and it is important that the appointments in the constituencies we lost are made keeping the winning prospects of the party in mind.”
Bajwa, however, claims he is only trying to revitalise the party by appointing people in seats deserted by the losing candidates. “In Faridkot and Maur, we had no one as the defeated MLAs have fled the party. I am bringing in young and educated people. I have not disturbed any established leaders or set-up. As for Amarinder, I have often said that I am willing to walk an extra mile to resolve issues. Some people are creating a ruckus to give me a bad name,” he said.