The Congress' Punjab affairs incharge, Shakeel Ahmed, here on Sunday called upon leaders and workers of the state party unit, including MLAs and MPs, to "iron out differences and work for a common goal" of making the party victorious from all 13 parliamentary seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
He made these remarks in his maiden address after taking over as incharge of Punjab party affairs. The hall was jampacked, and Congress MLAs claimed that they had never seen party cadres present in such large numbers at the Congress Bhawan to listen to a newly-appointed state incharge.
Ahmed's comment on "ironing out differences" came in the light of reports that then Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh had written a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi, claiming that Partap Singh Bajwa, who eventually succeeded him, had terrorist links.
The letter row cast a shadow on Sunday's meeting and was seen as well timed, with its reports appearing the day the newly-appointed incharge was to address party workers. Ahmed was seen defending Bajwa, even as no state Congress leader was willing to comment on the matter.
Though Amarinder was absent from the meeting, his wife, minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, was present. The former CM, according to Ahmed, was "somewhere out of Punjab".
Other union ministers of state from Punjab, Manish Tewari and Santosh Chaudhary, were also present, besides Congress Legislature Party leader (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar, former PPCC presidents Shamsher Singh Dullo and HS Hanspal, and senior party leader Lal Singh.
In his address, Ahmed didn't blame anyone for the Congress' defeat in the 2012 assembly elections in Punjab, but made it clear that the party lost due to internal differences. "We were not sure of winning in Uttarakhand but were very sure of victory in Punjab, but the results proved us wrong," he said.
Later, addressing a press conference, he expressed ignorance about the purported letter written by Amarinder to Sonia. "It is surprising for me, because Amarinder has not confirmed that any such letter was written by him," he told mediapersons.
Ahmed further said, "It is also surprising that the issue has cropped up since Amarinder and Bajwa have worked together for many years. Bajwa was a minister when Amarinder was the CM; the former was also the PPCC general secretary and vice-president when the Captain was the state unit president."
"It was Bajwa's father Satnam Singh Bajwa who was killed by terrorists," Ahmed said, while refusing to comment till the letter's authenticity was confirmed.
Bajwa preferred to remain silent, leaving it entirely to Ahmed to handle the situation. He was courteous to Preneet, who sat besides Bajwa during the press conference.
Earlier, in his address, Ahmed urged party leaders and workers to reach out to the people. "Don't leave any communication gap, and rise above personal benefit," was his piece of advice.
Bihari is 'prabhari'
Shakeel Ahmed, who hails from Bihar, is hopeful of making a mark in Punjab during the 2014 parliamentary elections. Referring to himself in his address, he said a Bihari, who had become the 'prabhari' (incharge), was keen on winning all 13 seats from Punjab. In the past, Congress leaders such as Gulchain Singh Charak, Mohsina Kidwai and Janardhan Diwedi, who were incharge of Punjab affairs, were overshadowed by Amarinder when he was the PPCC president.
Takes dig at Modi
Mocking Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, who was recently made chairman of the BJP campaign committee for the 2014 elections, Ahmed said Modi's claim of evacuating 15,000 Gujaratis from flood-devastated Uttarakhand was a joke. "How did he identify Gujaratis and how were they handpicked to be evacuated," asked Shakeel. He also said that Modi was dangerous for Punjab as well as the country.
Quotes from first-time MLAs
For the first time, leaders and workers came out in large numbers. There may be a difference of opinion, but the focus should be on strengthening the party.
Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Ludhiana (West) MLA
Young, hard-working members are now getting a chance in the Congress. The party has sent out a message that those doing good work would get prominence.
Kuljit Nagra, Fatehgarh Sahib MLA