Troubles for beleaguered Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa escalated to a new high on Friday as five party leaders, including former ministers Rakesh Pandey and Malkiat Singh Birmi, resigned from their party posts in protest against the newly-formed party organisational list that has since its release on December 27 ignited bushfires of dissent among party cadres in the state.
Also, four front-ranking party leaders - Capt Amarinder Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Jagmeet Singh Brar and Lal Singh trained their guns at the Gurdaspur MP and sought the high command's intervention to " save the party from being ruined by Bajwa."
Talking to Hindustan Times, the four leaders separately lambasted Bajwa and contested his claim of having consulted all senior state party leaders before the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) was recast. But, they were unanimous in their charge that Bajwa had "misled" the high command. Their sharp attack came a day after Bajwa tried to quell the rising dissidence by stating that the PPCC list had the stamp of party president Sonia Gandhi. Their broadsides came as a clear pointer to the state Congress' known rivals opening a common front against Bajwa.
Former chief minister Amarinder, who was the first to express his reservations on the PPCC list, saying that Bajwa could have done better, dashed to Delhi on Friday evening. He said he would meet Sonia Gandhi and other senior party leaders, and flag the latest "unfortunate developments that can prove very costly to the party unless remedial steps are taken."
Bhattal, Brar and Lal Singh have separately apprised All India Congress Committee (AICC) leaders in New Delhi of rising anger in the rank and file over the "unjust" list of PPCC office-bearers.
Amarinder said Bajwa never consulted him while recommending the list of state Congress office-bearers. "Bajwa didn't bother to consult anyone and later misguided the high command. He has failed to take all along. That's why everyone is complaining," he added.
The Captain said the anguish of party workers was very much genuine as the PPCC list was not balanced in terms of all factors, including caste, gender, age groups and representation of all groups within the Congress. " I am not against bringing younger leaders into the party fold but that doesn't mean you ignore the seniority of others," he said.
Breaking their silence on the raging row over the freshly-minted jumbo PPCC list, Brar and Bhattal charged Bajwa with "misguiding and telling lies" to the party high command.
"Bajwa lied and misled the high-ups by stating that he had consulted every senior Congress of Punjab over the state office-bearers," Brar told Hindustan Times, blaming Bajwa's arrogance for the latest dissidence in the Punjab Congress. "He was not even courteous to ask names from senior party leaders. Even Amarinder used to show this courtesy to all of us," added the former Faridkot MP, who had lost to Bajwa in the race for the top slot of the state Congress in March last year.
Brar said, "When Bajwa was appointed, I had stated to the high command that I would bow to your decision but Bajwa will ruin the party, and now he is proving me right by giving senior posts in the PPCC to persons roped in from the Shiromani Akali Dal or those who worked against the party."
Equally unsparing in her criticism was Bhattal, who told HT on the phone that she was upset with Bajwa's functioning as he didn't even bother to consult any senior leader. "It's unfortunate that such a big list of more than 300 names has been announced and yet no one is happy. Bajwa has failed and he ignored senior leadership."
"I have conveyed to the high command to ask Bajwa to mend his ways and pay due respect to seniors, otherwise it will cost the party dear in the coming Lok Sabha elections," said Bhattal.
Lal Singh was careful in not directly attacking Bajwa, but is learnt to have written to the high command on the latest development in the state Congress. "I am hurt with dissidence and have already raised the matter at the party forum," said the six-time MLA from Sanaur (Patiala).
Friday witnessed a spree of protest resignations by Punjab Congress leaders
Rakesh Pandey, ex-minister, Ludhiana
Malkit Singh Birmi, ex-minister, Ludhiana
Madan Lal Jalalpur, MLA, Ghanaur (Patiala)
Dharamveer Agnihotri, PPCC secy, Tarn Taran
Davinder Singh Arshi, PPCC secy, Pathankot