Punjab: Fighting own demons , low morale, government ‘muscle’

  • Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 16, 2015 15:00 IST

The opposition Congress in Punjab needs no opposition from outside as it heads into the civic polls. It is busy fighting its own demons — factionalism and low morale — when it could have made the most of both anti-incumbency and the growing rift between the ruling allies (the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party) to script a comeback.

While some party MLAs and district presidents blame not being given free hand in ticket distribution owing to infighting, the others blame “intimidation” by the government. The result — disgruntled candidates are contesting as independents, and so are those shying away from the party symbol, which they say has become a liability amid the Congress’ falling graph and low morale of workers.

The party looks combative in the areas where it has legislators trying to boost morale OF its workers and their own prospects for the big fight in 2017. But it is in complete disarray in the other assembly constituencies, or where the sitting MLA was not given a “free hand”.

After accusing Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa of “expecting the MLAs to beg for every ticket”, Batala legislator Ashwani Sekhri has fielded all his candidates and is waiting for Bajwa’s office to allot them the party symbol on Monday, failing which the civic polls will turn civil war within the party there.

“Bajwa’s brother, Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, is decimating both the Congress and his brother. If Fateh is so powerful, why has he let the rival councillors from two wards in Qadian constituency of Bajwa’s wife, Charanjit Bajwa, be elected unopposed. I am fighting for my workers, and I will stand against Fateh’s brute force,” said Sekhri.

'Don't know whom to go to'

It’s the same story elsewhere. Former Mansa MLA Sher Singh Gagowal says that it is for the first time that the state Congress chief ’s office is meddling in civic polls by asking for the names to allot the party symbol. “He has appointed Bikram Mofar, son of MLA Ajit Singh Mofar, as district party president. He (district party president) is ignoring good contenders, many of whom have decided to go independent, owing to the high-handedness of the government as well as the party office-bearers,” Gagowal adds. THE CONGRESS IS IN A BIGGER MESS THAN THE BJP AND THE AKALIS, WHO ARE FIELDING CANDIDATES AGAINST EACH OTHER AND THE OFFICIAL CANDIDATES OF THEIR ALLIANCE CHIRANJI LAL GARG , former minister MLA and Faridkot district Congress committee (DCC) president Joginder Singh says there was total chaos in the party over ticket distribution.

“Workers did not know who to go to — the DCC president, MLA, former MLA overseeing the halqa, or Dhanjeet Singh, appointed in-charge by Bajwa. Many ran away and became independent candidates. We are contesting just 12 of the 25 seats in Faridkot on party symbol, seven of the 17 in Jaitu and none of the 27 in Kotkapura,” he said.

Saying the government “intimidation” was the reason why candidates were not contesting on party symbol, he cited the example of a couple whose nomination papers were “snatched by the SHO (station house officer)”. The party’s predicament in Kotkapura can be gauged from the fact that even block president Pradeep Chopra is contesting as an independent.

'Distancing ones ignored'

The Congress old guard in Bathinda blames Bajwaappointed in-charge Harminder Jassi, who lost the Talwandi Sabo byelection last year, for the party’s “destruction” in the area. “Deserving candidates did not get to contest in Bathinda. Former councillor Bhagwan Das alleged that money had exchanged hands for ticket. The Congress workers in the district are angry, be it in Bucho Mandi, Maur or Rama Mandi. I was not even asked while deciding ticket for my ward. The Congress is in a bigger mess than the BJP and the Akalis, who are fielding candidates against each other and the official candidates of their alliance,” says former minister Chiranji Lal Garg.

Allies distancing

Now even allies are distancing themselves from the factional war in the Congress. “The People’s Party of Punjab does not want to be a pawn in this game. We cannot oppose leaders who gave us a significant lead in the Bathinda urban constituency during the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress is like a battalion that does not know which commander to follow,” said a PPP leader, when asked about why the two parties had failed to seal a pact in Bathinda.

Since a defeat will add to Bajwa’s list of failures, his worry is more of sabotage from within than outside. As for the party, after a duck in the Delhi elections, it is a fight for survival than victory.

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