Thousands of supporters gathered at the Congress Bhawan here on Saturday as Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa was formally installed as the new Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president, replacing former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
With Amarinder and central leaders expressing solidarity with Bajwa in the “fight against the lawless Akali regime”, there were the usual chants glorifying party’s national president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Union ministers Pawan Bansal, Ashwani Kumar, Preneet Kaur and Manish Tewari, and senior party leader Ambika Soni reminded Bajwa of the difficult task of bringing cohesiveness within the party to take on the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal.
“Give me just one month, and with the help and support of our workers we will start delivering results,” said Bajwa. He had set the tone with his opening remarks, saying that no post was permanent, and also shared the plan to tour the state over the next two months, “I will begin with Amritsar and the next stop will be Patiala as Preneet Kaur has invited me to her constituency.” He also remarked that the party workers were “a little disappointed for not getting complete support from the leadership”.
Though some like former PPCC chief SS Dullo are caustic in their criticism of the previous leadership’s “elitist” style of functioning, Bajwa in a goodwill gesture presented a siropa (ceremonial robe) to Amarinder and sought his blessings: “He (Amarinder) is just like an elder brother who will always be there to guide me.”
Amarinder, in his speech, congratulated Bajwa and said, “We must fight against the ‘gunda-gardi’ (criminal reign) of the Akalis together. They have crossed all limits.” Reiterating the charge of false cases against Congress workers, Amarinder added, “The Akalis must be sent a clear signal that their excesses would not be tolerated. They should be confronted everywhere. And I am completely with you (Bajwa) in our fight against the Akalis.”
Before Amarinder arrived, and union ministers, MPs and MLAs were already on stage, there were doubts if he would be in attendance. But the erstwhile Patiala royal scion turned up with Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar, and his loyalist MLAs in tow.
The legislators who arrived with Amarinder included Rana Gurjit Singh, Lal Singh, Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Arvind Khanna and Kewal Dhillon in tow. Bajwa played the perfect host and ensured Amarinder and his colleagues got good seats.
A number of old-timers, who had virtually gone into hibernation in the past few years, were seen greeting each other with enthusiasm.
Among them were former PPCC chiefs SS Dullo and HS Hanspal, besides MPs Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Sukhdev Singh Libra, former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, ex-MP RL Bhatia, Chandigarh Congress unit president BB Behl and former minister Malkiat Singh Birmi.
Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda turned up, but only after the ceremony was over. Gulchain Singh Charak and Harish Chaudhary, both in charge of the party affairs in Punjab, were also present.
Unsavoury row: Sekhri v/s Khaira
Congress MLA from Batala, Ashwani Sekhri lost his temper at former legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira for not letting the other legislators speak on stage before Bajwa had arrived.
Khaira was anchoring the stage and was welcoming the guests, and also making a speech against the Akalis. Sekhri asked him to stop and let others.
When Khaira sought a minute more, Sekhri tried to snatch the microphone.
Union ministers Minish Tewari and Preneet Kaur were on the stage.
Khaira told Sekhri to behave, but peace returned only after some colleagues intervened.