Between the ruling Badals and their own state party president Partap Singh Bajwa, many Punjab Congress legislators would prefer gunning for the latter. Even as the Moga bus incident has given the ruling party many blushes, the main opposition party once again put up a divided show when a delegation went to President Pranab Mukherjee with the demand to dismiss the Akali government.
As is his wont, the Bajwa move to send the invites to the MLAs through the office of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) again got the stamp of the Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab affairs, Shakeel Ahmad. But as the state party president met the President on Wednesday, he could muster the support of just 7 of the 43 party MLAs in the state.
The reasons that the loyalists of his bête noire, Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, gave for skipping the Bajwa show ranged from appearing for examinations to attending a wedding.
Asked to react, MLA Tarlochan Singh said the problem of non-lifting of wheat was still acute in his constituency, Banga. “I did get a call from the PPCC to join the delegation but I was bogged down by local issues,” he said.
MLA Charanjit Channi had a more pressing personal reason. He is busy appearing for his second-semester MA examinations. “My next paper is on May 22. I had to study,” he said.
Of the other MLAs, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot said he was in Rajasthan, attending to a personal matter; Balbir Sidhu said he was at a wedding in Hisar; and Ajaib Singh Bhatti claimed he had acute pain in the leg. “The pain has become so worse that I can’t even wear shoes as of now,” said Bhatti.
Several MLAs had a ready excuse for their absence, and those openly loyal Amarinder accused Bajwa of entering the domain of state Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar, another Amarinder loyalist. “The proposal to meet the President was mooted by Jakhar. Bajwa did not even consult him before announcing his plan through Shakeel Ahmad. Does Bajwa need Ahmad or Harish Chaudhary (Congress secretary in charge of Punjab) to do everything for him. Is it not clear that he does not enjoy the confidence of a majority of the MLAs?” said Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa.
Meanwhile, Amarinder has switched from overt to covert tactics against Bajwa. Following the aggressive posturing of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi against the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the Amarinder camp has decided not to seek the sacking of Bajwa. Instead it will try to build bridges with Rahul, whose elevation to the top post in the party was opposed openly by Amarinder.
While most MLAs stayed away, the Punjab Congress delegation led by Ahmad included MPs Ambika Soni, Ravneet Bittu and Ashawani Kumar; MLAs Kuljit Nagra, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Brahm Mohindra, Charanjeet Kaur Bajwa, Surender Dawar, Bharat Bhushan Ashu, and Ajit Inder Singh Mofar; and former PPCC presidents HS Hanspal and Shamsher Dullo. Jakhar could not join, as he was stuck in a traffic jam on the Jaipur-Delhi highway. He has as history of face-offs with Bajwa over the latter’s entering his turf.