Four days after the exchange of barbs between former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Partap Singh Bajwa during the Sangrur rally, the senior party leadership took the lunch diplomacy route to bring the warring leaders together on Monday. Amarinder and Bajwa had used their speeches to indulge in a verbal duel in the presence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday.
Party general secretary and incharge of Punjab Congress affairs Shakeel Ahmed hosted a lunch for Amarinder, Bajwa and other senior leaders at the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre at New Delhi in a bid to end the ongoing battle of oneupmanship between the two.
When contacted, Ahmed told Hindustan Times that he had organised an informal lunch for senior Punjab Congress leaders so that they and the party could present a united face in the state. He said both Amarinder and Bajwa came for the lunch and it was a very cordial meeting.
Others present at the lunch included former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar, Sanaur MLA Lal Singh and former PPCC president Shamsher Singh Dullo. Jalandhar MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Barmer (Rajasthan) MP Harish Chaudhary had also been invited. While Kaypee is away to London to attend a wedding, Chaudhary could not make it as he is busy with the upcoming Rajasthan assembly polls.
Sources revealed that during the nearly two-hour-long luncheon meeting, Amarinder and Bajwa did not break the ice initially. However, when Ahmed told them that their unity would be paramount to the Congress' success in Punjab in the Lok Sabha polls, palpable tension between the two began to thaw.
During the interaction, the issue of Amarinder writing an email to Rahul Gandhi for not putting his chair on the dais during the Sangrur rally also cropped up. Ahmed told Amarinder that his name was already there on the list of leaders to be seated on the dais and hence there was no need to shoot off a mail to such a senior person (Gandhi). "You could have spoken to me before sending the mail," Ahmed told Amarinder.
It was also conveyed to the leaders present how important it was for the party to accord due respect to party appointees. The former chief minister as well as the current state Congress chief and the CLP leader should get due respect during formal functions and gatherings as per the party protocol, Ahmed said.
During the meeting, Amarinder acknowledged that Bajwa was working hard in the state to galvanise the party. Bajwa responded that if Amarinder had said the same thing from the dais in Sangrur, he would have sung praises of him (Captain), for which he had even come prepared.
Towards the end of the luncheon, the central leadership gave a very strong message to Amarinder and Bajwa to work in tandem for the success of the Congress in Punjab. By the time it was over, both were shaking hands and exchanging bear hugs, while promising to bury their differences and work together.