The undercurrents of factionalism in the Punjab Congress during the visit of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to the state on Tuesday changed to full-blown display of competitive politics on Wednesday as warring factions hurried to join cause with him.
During Rahul’s whirlwind visit of grain markets, while deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, chose to stay put at his constituency, Amritsar, Punjab Congress president Partap Bajwa ensured he was in every frame with Rahul.
It left Congress legislature party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar with no choice but to release a picture of Rahul’s speaking to him to the media on Wednesday.
At a press conference, Jakhar also announced a sit-in in front of residence of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday, accusing the Badal regime of forcing the farmers to sell-off their wheat crop well below the minimum support price (MSP).
Within no time, Bajwa issued a press statement announcing a ‘rail roko’ agitation from May 2 for an hour (from noon to 1pm) to protest “open loot” of the farmers in the mandis of the state. He dubbed it the first phase of ‘Jan Andolan’ being launched by the party against the “anti-people policies of the Badal government”. Bajwa, in his statement, apologised to rail commuters in advance, saying: “(For the Congress), the issue was much bigger than the inconvenience they would suffer.”
Jakhar, who as state CLP leader commands allegiance of all MLAs, is likely to see their full attendence during the sit in, while Bajwa will have to pull all strings to ensure they show up for his stir. Bajwa had announced ‘jail bharo’ stir from May 1 against the land acquisition bill at his protest march during the Punjab budget session in March.
A credit war has also broken out among the rival factions over Rahul’s visit. While Amarinder had on Tuesday claimed he had messaged to Rhul about the growing farmers’ unrest in Punjab and he had acknowledged it duly and replied, the Bajwa camp has been claiming credit for flagging the issue to the party high command.
On Wednesday, almost all leaders from Amarinder and Bajwa to former MP Vijay Inder Singla tried to show solidarity with Rahul, who raised the “plight” of Punjab farmers in the Lok Sabha.
Jakhar also questioned the delay in the release of `4,000 crore that was meant for the payment to farmers.
“The RBI has already cleared the cash-credit for the payments amounting to `6,800 crore to the farmers, then why all this delay in the release of money,” he said. Pointing to the seizure of “illegal” wheat consignment in Batala, he said the crop was packed in the gunny bags meant for official procurement and being transported in private vehicles.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg as several influential parties were making huge chunk of illegitimate money through such purchases of crops at the rates lower than the MSP across the state,” Jakhar claimed. Bajwa on his part also demanded bonus of `200 per quintal.