What was a huge embarrassment for the ruling Akali Dal after arrested druglord Jagdish Bhola named revenue and public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia as the mastermind behind the flourishing drug racket in Punjab is turning into a full-blown war between Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and his predecessor Capt Amarinder Singh over handing over the investigations to the CBI.
In openly opposing Bajwa's demand for a CBI inquiry, Amarinder has not only risked defying the "party line" but also opened himself to allegations of having a "secret pact" with the ruling party to bail out the powerful minister.
But an unfazed Amarinder has refused to toe the so-called party line by describing the move to shift the probe to the CBI as a "delaying and diversionary tactic that would benefit criminals and vested interests". "If Majithia is guilty, he should be crucified, but if influential people from other parties too are involved, they should also be exposed," Amarinder has said. As is evident from the statement, he also suspects involvement of political leaders from other parties in the drug nexus. And who they are is not difficult to guess.
As Punjab Congress chief, in a controversial letter written in July 2012 to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, eight months before he was replaced by Bajwa in March last year, Amarinder cautioned Sonia against elevating Bajwa to the top post, alleging that he had "drug and terror links". In the letter, Amarinder had added that he as chief minister of Punjab was aware of these charges against Bajwa and was sure that the Akalis were aware of it as well and appointing him would make the Congress vulnerable to their arm-twisting.
The party, nevertheless, appointed Bajwa and Amarinder did not hide his disappointment, saying if consulted he would have suggested a different successor. While he expects the Akalis to go after Bajwa if the drug probe widens, Amarinder himself cannot escape the political fallout of following a line similar to the ruling party whose director general of police Sumedh Saini has opposed the opposition's demand for a CBI probe. That the ruling Badals have been feeling the heat of Bajwa's "street-fighting" and he has been able to posture himself as anti-Badals by spurning their offers of consensus politics will only make Amarinder's stand suspect.
But as is his wont, Amarinder is not bothered by aspersions on who is he trying to defend and who is he trying to "crucify". "For 15 years, I have gone hammer and tongs after the Akalis. A brazen Majithia had at a rally some years ago sought CM Parkash Singh Badal's permission to behead me. If he is guilty, he should be crucified. But the CBI has still not brought the culprits of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to justice. It is overworked and under-staffed. By the time it completes its investigations, another decade would be lost and many more youth would fall prey to the drug menace," he asserts.
As for Bajwa, he knows he is firmly in the saddle till the pleasure of the high command. So unlike Amarinder's open offensives, his attacks are tinged with sarcasm. "I do not want to join issue with him," is his common refrain. There have been perhaps as many episodes of face-offs between them as the number of months he has been in this office. The leaders might have appetite for more before the crucial Lok Sabha polls as Amarinder may want to return as head of the party's Lok Sabha campaign committee like in 2009.
Today, Bajwa's loyalists have threatened to burn effigies of Amarinder in the state against his "anti-party" activities. And once again it is the Akali Dal that is having the last laugh.