For someone who claims to have more lives than the proverbial nine of a cat, Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa sure knows the art of survival. Facing open revolt from a majority of party MLAs in Punjab, the embattled state chief has been giving himself lifelines amid raging speculations of his removal from the post.
Since he took over the reins of the Punjab Congress, Bajwa has been announcing one protest after another. Initially, it was to project him as a street-fighter to contrast the image of his predecessor and bete noire, former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh. But since the chorus for change of guard reached the high command in Delhi during meetings of legislators with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in February, Bajwa's protests have been more for survival.
In February, he had announced a mega rally against the land acquisition bill of the Narendra Modi government. The rally never saw the light of day as Rahul went on a sabbatical. In March, Bajwa held a protest against the land bill in Chandigarh and announced a jail bharo programme from May 1. Bajwa had then claimed that he would be the first to court arrest and each week, 100 people from each assembly constituency would court arrest against the bill.
The jail bharo programme was shelved for a more pressing cause - "harassment" of farmers owing to delay in wheat procurement -- and Bajwa announced a rail roko protest on May 2. Bajwa once again catapulted himself to the forefront after the Moga incident in which a teenage girl was allegedly molested and thrown off a bus owned by Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Badal that led to a national outrage.
On Friday, Bajwa gave himself a lease of life long enough to see him through to the next year. He announced to launch a mass contact programme in the state from June 1 which would continue through July and August and would be followed up by a five-month-long padyatra from mid-September. He also plans to play the Dalit card to take on the ruling Badals.
"The mass contact programme will start from 35 reserved Assembly segments in line with the Congress strategy to win back the Dalit vote bank, considering the fact that the victims of the recent molestation cases in the state (Moga and Muktsar) were Dalits. We will also apprise the masses of the mass accumulation of disproportionate assets by the ruling Badal family, rampant conflict of interest of the family and their relatives, mounting farm distress and concerns over the safety of women, especially Dalits. Punjab is home to the highest percentage of Dalit population at 33%, and it would also coincide with the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of BR Ambedkar this year," Bajwa said.
Come September and Bajwa has yet another plan ready. "The mass contact programme will be followed by a 1,000-km-long padyatra spanning over five months. I will cover 15km per day starting from Pathankot, which is one end of Punjab, and cover border districts in the first leg. Districts along the national highway will be covered in the later part. It would be aimed at mobilising support against the incumbent regime and project the Congress as the most viable political alternative ahead of the 2017 state election and regain the space the party had lost to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Lok Sabha election. We pledge to make the state Badal-mukt," Bajwa said.
On whether he has the sanction of the party high command, Bajwa said he would do so in a day or two. "The party would love to see their state president on the road to highlight the misdeeds of the ruling Badals. The political focus will be on us and we will also invite top party leadership for being a part of the movement," he said.
Asked if he was trying to outwit the Amarinder camp and pre-empt his removal from the post, Bajwa said he could be removed by the party any time, even when his mass contact programme is underway. Amarinder, whose strategy seems to have changed to not speaking against Bajwa in the media, did not respond to the phone calls.
Interestingly, Bajwa has announced several protests which never took off or ended in a whimper. After taking over the reins of the state unit, he had announced to start a campaign to get signatures of unemployed youth in the state. It never took off. After arrested druglord Jagdish Bhola named Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia as the kingpin of the drug racket, Bajwa had announced to hold protests in all districts. The programme was shelved as it failed to create a buzz.