Defiance or mere clash of dates? The Congress mega rally in New Delhi to celebrate its "victory" over the Narendra Modi government in forcing it to withdraw the controversial land acquisition bill will not be attended by party's deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh.
The rally date - Sunday, September 20 - is also the day the former Punjab chief minister is to launch his book, The Monsoon War, which is based on the 1965 war with Pakistan. Amarinder, who is believed to be peeved at the high command for not heeding to his suggestions on who should replace Partap Singh Bajwa as Punjab Congress president, had given the entire monsoon session of Parliament a miss.
He was also not seen in the recent meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), where party president Sonia Gandhi's presidency was extended by a year. Amarinder, when contacted, said he was not sure if he would attend Sunday's rally. "I have my book launch in Delhi on the same day. There could be traffic jams on the roads because of the rally and I might not be able to reach the launch venue, which is at quite a distance from Ramlila Ground. I cannot afford to miss my own book's launch," he said.
Unlike the April mega rally against the land bill, where Captain's camp had sported saffron turbans and bands to show it had outdone the Bajwa group in gathering a crowd, this time it is going to do only what Punjab Pradesh Congress Commiittee (PPCC) has mandated. "The PPPC has asked for two busloads from each constituency, and we will try to take only those many," said legislator Tarlochan Singh.
Amarinder has not only given the party's programmes a miss but also countered its stand on stalling the goods and services tax (GST) bill. He had also claimed that his rallies in Punjab were "more useful than staging dharnas outside Parliament during the monsoon session". While some of his loyalists hint he might break away from the Congress, Amarinder had on Sunday hosted a power dinner to show he still enjoyed the support of most Congress legialators, former MLAs and district party presidents. A decision on the new state party president, Congress sources said, was likely after the September 20 rally.
Captain reluctant; Soni to quit race?
Uncertainty over the change of the guard is keeping Congressmen on tenterhooks. There are now speculations that senior leader Ambika Soni, frontrunner for the post of Punjab Congress president, is keen to pull out of the race.
A senior MLA privy to the developments said Soni had conveyed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that she would not like to assume charge until Captain Amarinder Singh was on board. "There is too little time to experiment now. We cannot create two power centres when we have to not just build the morale of our cadre but also counter the growing influence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). So Ambika wants to take over charge only if she has the cooperation of all senior leaders. She is not keen to be the chief ministerial face," the legislator said.
There are also reports that Amarinder is no more pushing for state Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar as likely replacement for Bajwa. A section of the Congress believes the party may reverse its formula and appoint Amarinder as state unit chief and Soni as in charge of campaign committee. Another group within the party feels a new name from among the younger leaders may emerge.
The Congress is trying to devise a please-all sections formula by giving representation to the three dominant communities in the state - Jat Sikhs, Hindus and Scheduled Castes - as state party president, state CLP leader and campaign committee chairman.