Even as the party looks for answers at its weeklong brainstorming session underway here, it saw a walkout by some former MLAs.
On the third day of the dialogue session, only 40-odd people out of 110 invited were present. They included former legislators and candidates who had lost the 2012 state elections. Congress general secretay in charge of Punjab affairs Shakeel Ahmed, who had invited them, was absent himself. Infuriated at finding Punjab Congress president Partap Bajwa in the chair, a dozen former legislators and defeated candidates staged a walkout.
“We had gone there on the invitation of Shakeel Ahmed, not informed he would be absent. How can we hold a session with Bajwa, with whom as well we have problems? We told Bajwa we were not ready to have the session under him and he said those who wanted to speak to Shakeel Ahmed could do so on Monday. So we walked out. It has now been postponed to March 16,” former MLA and PPCC (Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee) vice-president colonel CD Kamboj said.
Former MLA Raman Behl, who was also among those who walked out, said the agenda circulated to them said the general secretary in charge wanted to have a group discussion on party ideology, organisational structure, and how to connect with the masses.
“We were disappointed, as we wanted to speak to the party high command on the agenda items. There was no point of discussing it with the state leadership,” said Bahl.
The other prominent leaders to walk out included former MLAs Makhan Singh, Raj Kumar Gupta, Amarjit Singh Samra and losing candidates Aman Arora, Malkit Singh, Gurpreet Dhariwal and Giriraj Rajoura.
Following the boycott, the meeting was re-scheduled to March 16 when Shakeel Ahmed will chair it. Bajwa, when contacted, said only a handful of them wanted to speak to the general secretary in charge. “Shakeel Ahmed had called me at night to say he would be unable to come and I should chair it. It is just a feedback session to get the views of the participants on the agenda items, which I too would have conducted. It was not an occasion to say who was responsible for one’s defeat or not getting a ticket. Anyhow, we later rescheduled it,” said Bajwa.
Amid allegations and counter-allegations, some of the former MLAs denied walking out, saying they were sitting in the office lawns, and included former MLA Harminder Jassi, a Bajwa loyalist. The Bajwa camp claims that after Shakeel Ahmed had announced on Thursday that the former would remain at the helm till he enjoyed the confidence of party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, his detractors are once again trying to unsettle him by fuelling dissent.