Having failed to dislodge Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa through his public statements and luncheon meetings with MLAs, Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh has decided to show his strength by taking on his successor by directly reaching out to party workers and voters through a state-wide campaign.
His loyalist MLAs, ex-MLAs and district presidents have lined up rallies, lunch, tea and dinner meetings for the former CM as he tries to shed his image of a “complacent and fair-weather” leader who only ventures out to towns and villages of Punjab during cooler months. Amarinder will embark on a whirlwind tour of the state from July 1 from Jalandhar covering Gurdaspur, Rajpura and Nabha in the first week and his constituency Amritsar from July 8.
The details for the tour were finalised on Thursday after the former Punjab CM met nearly 200 partymen at Chandigarh, including former MLAs, district presidents and party leaders from across the state. Also present were legislators who could take part in the luncheon meeting of Amarinder last week such as Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, OP Soni, Tarlochan Soondh and Joginder Panjgrain. The former CM had one-to-one meetings with many leaders and took their feedback on how to strengthen the party in Punjab.
The day saw hectic political activity as supporters of Bajwa claimed in the morning that Amarinder’s meeting had been called off after AICC general secretary incharge of Punjab Shakeel Ahmed called him asking to desist from holding a parallel show as Bajwa’s state tour is underway. However, Amarinder’s camp was quick to rebut the news saying the meetings were on. Shakeel, when contacted, said he had spoken to Amarinder on party affairs but had no information about his programme.
“So far, Amarinder has not made any statement about his tour, so I have no information about it. If the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) objects to it and sends us an adverse report, we will look into the matter. How can we stop a senior leader from meeting party workers and people till he breaches the party line or criticises state or central leaders. If Amarinder wishes to take on the misrule of the Akali-BJP regime, why should the party object to it,” Ahmed told HT.
But the symbolism of Amarinder’s programme is not lost on Bajwa’s sympathisers. The Captain will kick off the campaign from Jalandhar Cantt, where former MLA Jagbir Brar is holding a rally. Brar had earned the ire of Bajwa for boycotting his campaign in his constituency and the state chief had even demanded action against such “indiscipline”. Also, unlike Bajwa, who is struggling to ensure attendance of sitting and former MLAs at his programmes, those of Amarinder will be organised by his loyalists to show that the party rank and file is with him. Not to mention that the muscle-flexing is also aimed at signalling the popularity of Amarinder to the party high command.
Bajwa’s supporters claimed Amarinder was trying to “use” the Congress to muster more party MLAs and leaders to his side as he did not have enough MLAs to break away from the party which had refused to give into his demands. Amarinder’s team dubbed the response to Thursday’s meeting as “overwhelming”. “We had made arrangements for hosting 90 people. But over 200 turned up and we had to order extra lunch,” a close aide of Amarinder said.
Though elected to the Lok Sabha with an overwhelming majority from Amritsar, Capt Amarinder Singh has chosen Dalit-dominated Doaba for kick-starting his state campaign on July 1. Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, too, is making a pitch for wooing Dalit votes by covering 34 reserved seats of the state during the first part of his state tour. Amarinder will cover Gurdaspur on July 2. This is Bajwa’s home district with some of his harshest critics and Amarinder loyalists such as MLAs Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tripat Bajwa and Ashwani Sekhri. On July 4, he heads to Rajpura and Nabha. He will cover his constituency along with Anandpur Sahib and Samrala in the second week of July. During the third week, he will visit Khadoor Sahib, Adampur and Mohali.