The feverish pitch created by rival Congress camps on Sunday over a rally on January 22 at Amritsar to counter BJP president Amit Shah’s show the same day in the holy city came down several notches on Monday, as Shah indefinitely deferred his programme citing announcement of the Delhi elections.
The faction-ridden Congress seemed to be headed for a showdown between deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha and former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who had announced the show of strength, and state unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa, who wanted his stamp on the Amritsar rally too.
While Amarinder is still going ahead with the rally, fashioned as the launch of an anti-drugs campaign, Shah’s move came as a face-saver for Bajwa who is now likely to announce plans to take on the BJP chief as and when he reschedules the BJP’s anti-drug campaign launch.
A beleaguered Bajwa — on thin ice after Amarinder gathered an overwhelming majority of the party’s MLAs, district presidents and other leaders at a lunch meeting — had said on Sunday that the programme to take on the BJP chief had been envisaged by the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) and would be held under its umbrella.
The turn of events, however, comes as a sigh of relief for the Congress high command, which was watching the developments in the state anxiously.
Shah’ move apparently dampened Amarinder’s plan to challenge both the BJP and Bajwa by a show of his political muscle in his Lok Sabha segment, but he announced that the ‘Lalkar Rally’ would be held as scheduled, even though the BJP had “run away”.
In a press statement, Amarinder said, “Once bitten twice shy. Having bitten the dust in the parliamentary elections in Amritsar, the BJP has clearly opted to be wiser this time by walking out of the contest. But there is no question of cancelling or postponing the Congress rally as we are confronting the Akali-BJP government for its failure to curb the problem of drugs and for patronising drug peddlers. The rally will be the first in a series of rallies to be organised statewide in the coming months.”
Now leading the oust-Bajwa campaign from the front, Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar too fired a salvo, “It has been once again proved that Amarinder is called the ‘Lion of Punjab’ not for nothing.”
But the Bajwa camp said Amarinder's stand had “exposed his intentions”.
“If the aim was to take on the BJP, he should have deferred the rally to coincide with Shah’s rally whenever that is held. But he wants to challenge Bajwa by holding a show of strength. Personal ambition is above the party and the state for Captain,” a Congress MLA and Amarinder detractor said, requesting anonymity.
MLAs rooting for Amarinder have no qualms in accepting who the real target is. “Amarinder would show how Bajwa’s rallies and anti-drug campaign pale in comparison to him by roping in most MLAs, former legislators and other leaders, and mobilising bigger crowds. It will also boost the morale of the Congress rank and file and jolt the SAD-BJP alliance,” an MLA loyal to the Amritsar MP said.