Barely an hour after the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) on Monday issued a joint statement of party MLAs demanding disciplinary action against Congress legislator Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria for his remarks against state party president Partap Singh Bajwa, many legislators took a U-turn and tried to disassociate themselves from the controversy.
The promptness with which some Congress MLAs backtracked from the official PPCC statement on Monday underscored the divide between the camps owing allegiance to Bajwa and his predecessor, Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Capt Amarinder Singh.
In a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. released to the media in Amritsar on Sunday, Raja Sansi MLA Sarkaria had called for a change in the state party leadership in view of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and had showered praise on Amarinder.
The PPCC office issued two statements on Monday evening one from Chandigarh and the other from Amritsar saying that Congress MLAs had demanded disciplinary action against Sarkaria for damaging the party's image and for being a puppet in the hands of the anti-Congress lobby.
The MLAs' names which figured in the statement issued from Chandigarh included Kewal Singh Dhillon, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Brahm Mohindra, Randeep Singh Nabha, Ajit Inder Singh Mofar, Rakesh Pandey, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Gurkirat Singh Kotli, Navtej Singh Cheema and Parminder Singh Pinky.
The statement from Amritsar included legislators Om Parkash Soni, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Aruna Chaudhary, Raj Kumar Verka, Ashwani Sekhri, Harpartap Singh Ajnala, Jasbir Singh Gill, Dharamvir Agnihotri and Harminder Singh Gill. The statement from Amritsar even went to the extent of saying that some Congress MLAs had demanded Sarkaria's expulsion from the party.
Not even an hour had passed after the PPCC's statements that Congress MLAs started calling up the media to say that they did not want to associate themselves with the same.
When contacted, Batala MLA Ashwani Sekhri expressed ignorance of his name figuring in the PPCC statement against Sarkaria.
"I am in a remote constituency of Gujarat with Congress MP Prabha Rao. I have no knowledge of the statement issued under my name. I am also not aware of what Sarkaria has said and the letter he had written," said Sekhri.
Rana Gurmit Sodhi, Congress MLA from Guru Har Sahai, told HT that he, too, had no knowledge of the issue and no one had spoken to him in this regard. Tarn Taran district Congress Committee chief Dharampal Agnihotri also said he was unaware of the issue.
National Commission for Schedule Castes (NCSC) vice-chairman Raj Kumar Verka, sitting MLA from Amritsar (West), said he was neither in favour of action against Sarkaria nor for his making a letter to the Congress president public.
"I think these issues have to be taken up at the party platform and not in the media," added Verka.
Punjab Congress general secretary and Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjeet Singh issued a separate statement, saying that party leaders who had issued the statement against Sarkaria had not done any good to the party.
Rana Gurjeet even defended Sarkaria, saying that the latter had not committed any act of indiscipline but adopted a proper procedure by writing to the party high command. "Everybody has the right to be heard and he (Sarkaria) should also be heard," he observed, adding that ganging up against someone and gagging him would not serve the party's interests. Rana Gurjeet suggested to Bajwa to call Sarkaria and meet him to know about his grievances.
A young MLA from the Malwa region, who did not wish to be identified, also wanted his name to be taken out of the PPCC statement. " I support Bajwa but do not want my name to be used against anyone," he said.
However, MLAs such as Pinky, Kotli and Cheema came openly in support of Bajwa. "There are only a handful of people left who want to destabilise the party. Certain elements are shaken by the way
Bajwa has galvanised workers in Punjab against the SAD-BJP government," said Cheema and Pinky.
Despite repeated attempts, Bajwa did not respond to the calls HT made on his cell phone to have his view on the issue.