Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh has given the recent monsoon session a miss. Last week, he expressed displeasure over stalling of the goods and services tax (GST) bill and defended his rallies in Punjab, saying it was better than staging dharnas outside Parliament. Is he rebelling against the party high command for not yielding to his demands? Amarinder tells HT assistant editor Sukhdeep Kaur that of the five states going to polls in the next two years, the Congress has hope of winning only Punjab and it cannot afford to ignore its state leaders while deciding on the leadership issue. Excerpts from the interview: There are speculations over your next move as your recent statements show you are on a collision course with the party high command.
Party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi have to decide what Punjab needs. When I met them in June, I told them that delaying the decision on the state leadership is only damaging the party in Punjab. But they have not yielded to your request.
Of the five states going to polls in the next two years, the Congress has hope of winning only Punjab. The party has to take views of state leaders while deciding the leadership issue or they lose the polls. The party sends someone who does not understand Punjab to report on ground reality. How can someone from Nagaland understand Punjab or I, for that matter, comment on Kerala? The Congress is suffering because of such issues. Why the urgency to change Bajwa?
He is damaging the party every day. Only last week, he changed a block president in the constituency of MLA Ramanjit Sikki in Khadoor Sahib. As PCC chiefs we were not allowed to change them and never did, but he is demoralising partymen by acting like a Sheikh of Arabia. The longer he stays,
the bigger the damage. But you have been twice given the chance to lead the party.
That is where the record of the AICC office is also stuck. The common refrain is “isko do baar chance diya (he has been given chance to lead the party twice)”. Do they bother to know if Amarinder had his say in deciding the candidates? I had several arguments with the election committee that you are giving away tickets to losing candidates. Most candidates propped by other senior leaders lost. Former chief minister Bhattal got tickets for 10 loyalists, only Rakesh Pandey won from Ludhiana north. She won by a slender margin, that too with the help of CM Parkash Singh Badal. Are you pitching for the state presidency of the party? But Rahul may want the younger generation to take charge.
Punjab’s culture has been that the older generation grooms the younger. They have the advantage of age and experience. You cannot put older leaders under the younger ones. It won’t work for Punjab. You gave the monsoon session a miss. Was it intentional?
Sonia knows I have no interest in Parliament. I have this block after 1984 (when I resigned from the Congress over Operation Bluestar). But Sonia told me to contest against (now Union finance minister) Arun Jaitley from Amritsar. She said I could resign later if I wanted to return to state politics. I am only interested in being in Punjab and she knows that. Have you given suggestions on who can succeed Bajwa?
When I met them (Sonia and Rahul), they did not ask for my suggestions, nor did I give any. I will give it when asked. What does the Congress need other than a new state chief in Punjab?
We also need to change the system of deciding candidates. They should take lists from all senior leaders but make their own neutral assessment on their winnability.