Upbeat after his "long and cordial" meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi at New Delhi on Thursday, party's deputy leader in the Lok Sabha and former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said the 2017 assembly polls will see a direct contest between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab.
Talking to reporters at the residence of Congress Legislative Party leader Sunil Jakhar, after leading a dharna in front of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's residence on Friday, Captain tried to scotch rumours of cosying up to the BJP by describing the party as "inconsequential" in Punjab.
"The BJP and Akalis will remain on the fringes. There is deep resentment and anger against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and their reputation has touched its nadir. People, particularly youngsters, do not even like to talk about the Akalis and Badals," he said.
So keeping Punjab's history of bipolar politics, he said it will be the Congress versus the AAP, which, he said, appealed to a section of youth but lacked an experienced leader except its state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur. "We will also try to reach out to youth voters by launching a campaign to attract college and university students," Amarinder said.
Refusing to divulge details about his joint meeting with Sonia and Rahul, he said, "It is a confidential matter between me and my party and I don't like to go public about it. The leadership issue is the prerogative of the Congress president. The meeting lasted for about one-and-half hour in a very cordial and warm atmosphere," he added. On Rahul's strategy to promote young leadership, he said the party will not push out the older leaders but bring in a mix of youth and experienced leaders.
Though his detractors claim Amarinder is flirting with the idea of floating a separate party if he or his nominee are not appointed as the Punjab Congress chief, Amarinder ruled out the possibility saying, "Do you think with all this love, respect and support of MLAs, Congress workers and leaders and also the general public, I should be leaving my party and leaving everything behind?"
He asserted that the Congress had lost the 2007 and 2012 state elections by difference of merely one per cent votes against the Akali-BJP combine. Replying to question on CM Parkash Singh Badal's charges that the Congress had betrayed and let down late Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Amarinder retorted, "Let Badal answer who betrayed and backed out of the accord which Sant Longowal had signed with late PM Rajiv Gandhi. It was Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra who actually betrayed and backstabbed Sant Longowal and he had to pay with his life," he said.
On the issue of Punjab Congress Committee (PCC) led by Partap Singh Bajwa also holding dharna outside the sugar mills for payment to sugarcane growers, Amarinder said it was a good thing as everyone in the party was working towards getting farmers their pending dues.