Uncertainty looming over his Punjab Congress presidency, Partap Singh Bajwa has drafted his resurrection through the land bill.
With most Congress legislators making a token presence at Tuesday’s protest rally, it was his “B team” of former MLAs and district and block presidents that mustered supporters for an all-out Bajwa show. The majority was from Bajwa’s home district, Gurdaspur, ferried by his younger brother, Fateh Jang Singh. Finally, it was Bajwa and Ravneet Bittu alone who courted arrest and made headlines in a picture-perfect protest.
While his detractors within the party estimated that not more than 3,000 people had turned up at the protest from across the state, Bajwa told HT that the Chandigarh Police CID (criminal investigation department) reports put the figure at 18,000 to 20,000. “I have myself hired 100 buses and my friends and party men had made arrangements for 100 more. Nearly 10,000 people came in buses and an equal number in cars and SUVs,” he added.
At the venue, Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, was missing from the posters, which had the pictures of only Bajwa and state Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar, besides the party’s central leadership.
Since Dhuri assembly byelection is up next month, Bajwa has a resurrection plan ready. He has announced a Jail Bharo programme from May 1 to take on the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government over the land acquisition bill and other farmer-centric issues. “Each week, 100 people from each assembly constituency will court arrest. They will get commendation certificates from party president Sonia Gandhi. It will rejuvenate the party cadre,” said Bajwa.
Token display of unity
Led by the general secretary in charge of Punjab, Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress protest was a token display of unity at the rally grounds. Just a few MLAs brought between 100 and 200 supporters. Some were seen taking pictures with them as testimony.
The Amarinder loyalists claimed they had not been asked to bring people. Legislator Rana Gurjeet Singh said he had not been informed by the PPCC (Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee) about the rally and protest march, while MLAs Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Tripat Bajwa have said they were asked to participate only through SMS. But Bajwa said Randhawa, being a district party president, had been asked indeed to bring people.
“All I can say is that besides PPCC office-bearers, district and block presidents, I asked all those MLAs who would be willing to bring people. It was all planned within a few days and (the protest) was symbolic. As for MLAs, they did not court arrest because they had to attend the assembly session at 2pm,” claimed Bajwa.
Farmers term landbill ‘an infringement’
Chandigarh: A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Punjab, angry farmers from the state termed his government’s land acquisition bill as “infringement” of their property rights, as they joined the Congress protest march in Chandigarh.
“They cannot take away our land and then give us compensation. We will not part with our land,” said Arjun Singh of Raichak village in Gurdaspur district. Their concerns were not limited to the land bill. “The Centre has not given us a good hike in the MSP (minimum support price) of crops; and not it’s saying it will acquire our land and won’t procure our food grains,” said farmer Jagjit Singh from Boparai village in Gurdaspur.
Muktsar farmer Harmanpreet said the bill had exposed the Punjab government’s doublespeak” on the issues concerning farmers. “Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had opposed forcible acquisition, so why did his party vote in favour of the bill?” he stated.