In a rarity, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Partap Singh Bajwa and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar put aside their differences and projected a united face to take on the SAD-BJP alliance on various contentious issues.
By deciding to be part of the agitation which was planned and called by Jakhar, Bajwa gave a clear signal to his detractors that he is ready to bury the hatchet for his own and the party’s prospects as well as survival in Punjab.
In a bid to run down the unity show, Bajwa’s detractors claimed that the state Congress chief was reluctant to be part of the agitation and was forced to stand along with Jakhar on the instructions of party general secretary and in-charge of Punjab Congress affairs Shakeel Ahmed. Both Bajwa and Jakhar have denied the charge, saying that it was nothing but laughable.
It seems that after suffering defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, Bajwa and Jakhar have understood the adage, “United we stand, divided we fall. The “fallen generals” of the Punjab Congress have learnt the unity lesson the hard way.
Differences between the two leaders had been simmering ever since Bajwa was elevated to the post of state party chief last year. Jakhar, considered a close confidant of deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh, and Bajwa had competed with each other on almost everything from meeting then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and submitting memoranda to union ministers to the recast of the state executive of the PPCC.
Bajwa had raised Jakhar’s hackles by intruding into his turf by calling a CLP meeting before last year’s winter session of the Vidhan Sabha. The situation was defused through lunch diplomacy by Ahmed, who called the leaders to Delhi.
However, on Monday, Bajwa and Jakhar buried the hatchet, a move that was high on symbolism.
The first sign of bonhomie developing between the two became apparent when after the CLP meeting on June 16, Jakhar was asked if Bajwa would be part of the June 23 agitation. “Of course, he will be there. He is the state party president and leader of the Congress in the state,” was Jakhar’s prompt response.
Despite speculation, Bajwa came down to Jakhar’s Sector 2 residence in Chandigarh half an hour before the scheduled time of the dharna. The two leaders again came together at Jakhar’s residence after the dharna to plan the strategy for the agitation planned in other parts of the state.
However, the Jakhar-Bajwa bonhomie is more out of compulsion than choice. But it may not go down well with the Amarinder camp, which is gunning for Bajwa’s head after the party’s dismal show in the polls. Someone who knows how and when to make and break friends, the beleaguered state party chief ’s only hope of survival lies in wooing more MLAs to his side.
As for Jakhar, he had been trying to assert his neutrality by maintaining distance from the Amarinder camp in the past few months. His resignation was not accepted, but his graph is down.
Both leaders need each other in the worst hour of crisis for their party as well as for themselves.
The new-found unity between the two may not also be a good sign for the ruling alliance, which has always been politically thriving on the sharp divisions within the Punjab Congress.
Of the total 43 Congress MLAs, as many as 32 turned up for the agitation. While six were away from India, three were indisposed. The Congress MLAs know that if they fail to stay united, they have a bleak chance of bouncing back in the 2017 assembly polls.