When the ruling alliance in Punjab is on the back foot over the drug issue, the faction-ridden Congress saw heavy exchange of fire on Friday after incumbent state chief Partap Singh Bajwa broke his silence and went ballistic against the statements of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Back from his Dubai visit, Amarinder, who is deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, questioned Bajwa’s leadership ability openly after meeting party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Though Amarinder said he did not discuss Punjab politics or Bajwa with Sonia, as he had gone there to enquire about her health, replying to a media query outside her residence, he said Bajwa could not lead the party to victory in Punjab.
Provoked by the remark, Bajwa, who has so far not reacted to Amarinder’s open missives, saying he wants to observe the Lakshman Rekha (not cross the line), too launched a no-holds-barred counterattack questioning Amarinder’s own leadership credentials.
“He has crossed the Lakshman Rekha this time by telling the media what is supposed to be confidential between him and our party president. It has again demoralised the Congress cadre. Is he a soothsayer to predict that I cannot lead the party to victory in elections? Who was responsible for the two successive defeats of the party, one when he was CM and the other when his name was announced as CM candidate,” said Bajwa.
With Amarinder planning to defy Bajwa’s leadership by holding a meeting of sitting and former legislators, district presidents and other senior party leaders at his Moti Bagh Palace in Patiala on Sunday to brainstorm on how to “strengthen” the party in wake of a possible Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) onslaught, Bajwa told him not to enter his turf.
“I am worried at the situation, as our party is in doldrums. Like former MP Jagmeet Brar, many more Congress leaders will slip away, if the BJP tries to walk free of its ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal. The BJP plans 4,500 anti-drug rallies in the state. We have to keep the Congress rank and file intact and take on the BJP collectively. For this, we need to meet and find a way. As for Bajwa, I have been saying from day one that he is not capable of leading the party,” Amarinder told HT.
Bajwa hit back by saying he is capable of fighting the BJP in Punjab. “It was Amarinder’s job to fight the BJP in Parliament, which he never did. Who was fighting the ruling alliance when the drug issue flared up? He was on a month’s vacation when the winter session was on, and now he wants to mark himself present by making statements. I am capable of taking a call on how to fight my political opponents in Punjab and he should perform the duty entrusted to him. He keeps commenting on my work. It is time, he starts doing his own, and not preach what he does not practice,” Bajwa said in his reaction.
Taking a dig at Captain’s army background, Bajwa said the first thing the army teaches is discipline but the Captain seems to have not imbibed it. “It is not me but the SAD-BJP who are his political adversaries but he keeps squabbling with me day in and day out,” he said.
Amarinder, too, spared Bajwa no barbs. On why he planned to hold the party meeting without inviting Bajwa, he said: “It is the PPCC (Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee) chief who is responsible for the party’s decline in Punjab. The Congress is not Bajwa and Bajwa is not Congress. We have a right to meet and decide future course of action. As for why we lost the 2012 elections, we won just seven of the 37 seats that went to the loyalists of different leaders. Six of them went to Bajwa and only his wife won. He has no right to comment on my Dubai trip or missing Parliament. I took leave from my party president for not attending the winter session and I was in Dubai to complete the legal formalities of my apartment after my mother’s health had improved; and I do not owe him an explanation.”
Barb for barb
It was Amarinder’s job to fight the BJP in Parliament, which he never did. He was on a month’s vacation when the winter session was on and now he wants to mark himself present by making statements. Partap Singh Bajwa, PPCC president
It is the PPCC chief who is responsible for the party’s decline in Punjab. The Congress is not Bajwa and Bajwa is not Congress. We have a right to meet and decide the future course of action. Capt Amarinder Singh, former CM