Dissatisfaction with the leadership of Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh and state affairs in-charge Gulchain Singh Charak within the party was the key feedback that AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi got on Thursday, as he met the rank and file in groups here to analyse the assembly poll defeat earlier this year.
At the end of Rahul's two-day visit, a majority of the rank and file said that nothing short of change in the leadership would revive the prospects of the party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections slated for 2014. "State unit president Capt Amarinder Singh, Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa and former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal lead separate groups within the state unit.
The divisions have weakened the party and bewildered the members," the leaders are learnt to have told Rahul, who met senior, middle-level and junior members separately at the Punjab Congress office.
Prominent leaders who interacted with Rahul included former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) presidents Varinder Kataria, Bhattal, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, HS Hanspal and Shamsher Singh Dullo. He also met 45 district unit leaders besides MLAs and workers from SAS Nagar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Rupnagar, Hoshiarpur and Barnala. During these meetings, Amarinder and Charak were not allowed to be present.
In fact, a group from Hoshiarpur is learnt to have alleged that Charak got favours in various forms from those seeking the party ticket. Rahul asked them to see him in Delhi with evidence.
Workers also expressed concern over the inaccessibility of Amarinder. "Even after six months of the defeat, Amarinder has not called even a single meeting of newly elected MLAs. His coterie calls the shots," some first-time MLAs told Rahul.
Amarinder also came in for flak for failing to win over rebels during the polls. The issue of late distribution of tickets and how many senior leaders got tickets for their kin also cropped. The kin of Amarinder, Bhattal and Kaypee lost, it was pointed out.
There was some relief for Amarinder when a set of his loyalists argued that his removal would not do anything other than weakening the party further. They said Amarinder remained the only one in the party capable of taking the Akali-BJP government head on.
On record, the state unit spokesman, Fatehjang Singh Bajwa, however defended the current leadership and said that Rahul's visit in a difficult phase would be a great morale booster for the party. He said there was no opposition to Amarinder.
'Complete Beant memorial'
Rahul Gandhi expressed concern over the non-completion of the memorial to slain Punjab CM Beant Singh. He paid floral tributes at the memorial. MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and MLA Gurkirat Singh Kotli, grandsons of Beant Singh, accompanied Rahul. MLA Ajit Inder Singh Mofar was there too.
The media no-go
During his two-day visit to Punjab, Rahul was kept away from the media. In fact, instructions were passed on to his security personnel as well as to senior Congress leaders not to allow newsmen to come close to him. The organisers were probably worried that Rahul may find himself in a pickle if asked questions about the recent graft allegations against his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, among other continuous issues.