The old-versus-new-guard war in the Congress is being fought in Punjab. The party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, and state president Partap Singh Bajwa have taken combat positions in favour of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, respectively.
Becoming the rallying point for party old-timers opposed to Rahul’s elevation as Congress president, Amarinder is upping his stakes gradually. While he had earlier said in a television interview that Sonia must continue to lead the party, he doesn’t rule out a split in the party if Rahul takes over. “Everybody I meet in Delhi and elsewhere talks about it. I hope that a split does not happen. But if senior leaders are sidelined, they will have to think of other options,” Captain told Headlines Today, which has posted excerpts of the interview online.
The relations between Amarinder and Rahul had soured after the Congress lost the 2012 assembly elections under the former’s leadership and Rahul handpicked Bajwa to replace him. Rahul has backed his appointee through his turbulent two years in office, so far, even though Amarinder has challenged Bajwa's leadership openly.
Amarinder has not been able to get a special and differential treatment from Rahul that he gets from Sonia, given the old association of the Gandhis with the erstwhile Patiala royals.
Bajwa, whose presidency is hanging by a thread amid growing dissidence and infighting for which he blames Amarinder, has lapped up the opportunity of taking on his bitter rival. On Sunday, in a press statement, Bajwa had accused Amarinder of “sabotaging” the elevation of Rahul to party’s presidency and questioned his motives. He told the same news channel on Monday: “If Amarinder intends to leave the party, let him leave.”
When contacted, Amarinder said: “The news channel asked me if the Congress can split if Rahul takes over. All I said was I, too, had heard these murmurs and hoped they were not true.” Bajwa, on his part, said he was only replying to what Amarinder had said in his interview.
“They asked me to reply to Amarinder’s statement that he would have to explore other options. All I said was if he has made up his mind, let him leave the party,” Bajwa said.
MLAs to the forefront
Both sides have brought Congress MLAs to their defence. In a joint press statement, 33 of the 43 Punjab Congress legislators questioned Bajwa’s “locus standi” in speaking against Amarinder.
“It is an irony that the most unpopular leader in the party in Punjab is seeking the expulsion of the most popular leader. Bajwa is mistaken if he thinks he can get a political bargain out of speaking against Amarinder. He is far too junior to Amarinder to make such statements, which he is making out of frustration. He is trying to create confusion by distorting what Amarinder said. He (Captain) is not against Rahul’s elevation as Congress president but thinks this is not the right time for him to be elevated. Bajwa is deliberately trying to sow discord within the party, as he has no stakes left owing to his imminent removal,” read the joint press statement by the MLAs.
Soon, three MLAs and MP Ravneet Bittu issued a statement charging Amarinder with “open revolt”. “Rather than coming out with their plans for making the April 19 rally a huge success, Amarinder’s supporters are launching a tirade against Bajwa. It is clear that Amarinder is not only targeting Rahul, who is a hurdle in his objective of taking reins of the Punjab Congress, but also sabotaging the rally. In case Amarinder had any reservations about Rahul being given the presidency, he should have taken up the issue on the party forum,” they said.