The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) office-bearers rallied round state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa on Monday, unanimously endorsing his leadership in the backdrop of a wave of dissidence and protests in the party over its newly-cast state organisational structure. In the same breath, the meeting urged Bajwa to immediately reach out to the disgruntled leaders to resolve their grievances as "they too are part of the Congress family."
This was the first meeting of the PPCC office-bearers comprising vice presidents, general secretaries, secretaries and district Congress committee (DCC) presidents after the body was constituted on December 27. The marathon meeting, which lasted well over four hours, went off peacefully.
Expressing dismay at outbursts in the media about the party's internal matters by some Congress leaders, the meeting advised them to exercise restraint in the larger interests of party and called upon all Congressmen to maintain decorum and discipline at all levels of the party.
Monday's meeting clearly came as a shot in the arm for Bajwa, who has been under fire from a section of senior leaders, notably Capt Amarinder Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Jagmeet Singh Brar, for not consulting them on the 320-member PPCC list. In fact, ahead of the meeting, the Captain had upped the ante. Not only did he reject the list as "unbalanced and unfair", he also demanded the high command's intervention to resolve the crisis triggered by the anti-Bajwa chorus by a section of the party.
During the meeting, Gidderbaha MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring got up and offered to vacate his position as general secretary in the PPCC if some disgruntled element could be accommodated in his place. Soon, Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra, who is a permanent invitee to the PPCC, and Charanjit Singh Channi, a vice-president in the body, offered to follow suit in the interests of the party.
The first resolution was moved by Brahm Mohindra, Patiala (Rural) MLA and sworn bête noire of Amarinder, and seconded by Muktsar MLA Karan Kaur Brar.
The resolution read, "This meeting of office-bearers of the PPCC reposes full faith in the leadership of Partap Singh Bajwa. This House places on record thanks to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for entrusting responsibility on the shoulders of Bajwa and office-bearers by assigning them duties for serving the party in various capacities."
Later Bajwa told mediapersons that he was still willing to reach out to all those Congress leaders who were not happy with the formation of the PPCC. "The final decision would be taken by the AICC. If the AICC wants to review the list, it can certainly do so and make necessary changes. The AICC has the power to remove me as well from the post of PPCC chief," said Bajwa.
Without naming Amarinder, Bhattal and Jagmeet Brar, the PPCC chief said he knew who was instigating Congress leaders to rebel.
"I know 'somebody important' in the party is behind the entire move and how he was trying to scuttle the PPCC meeting. But we will concentrate on fighting against the SAD-BJP government, rather than among us, in view of the Lok Sabha polls," Bajwa added.
Of the 14 PPCC vice-presidents, Om Parkash Soni and Kewal Dhillon were not present at the meeting. The Congress spokesman said Soni had a personal engagement, while Dhillon was out of India.
Of the 35 general secretaries, Jagmohan Singh Kang, Jeet Mohinder Singh and Gurkirat Singh Kotli were not present. The spokesman said while Kang had offered to resign after being unhappy over his appointment, Jeet Mohinder and Kotli were abroad.
Of the 61 secretaries, those who failed to turn up included Jagdarshan Kaur, Anil Bhola, Arun Walia, Arun Bhogal, Devinder Darshi, Dharamvir Agnihotri, Harchand Kaur, Manisha Gulati, Manohar Lal, Manpreet Dolly, Mohammad Sadique and Rajpal Mahajan.
All 27 district Congress committee presidents were present at the meeting, the party spokesman said.
AICC secretary and incharge of Punjab party affairs Harish Chaudhary failed to turn up. According to the spokesman, Chaudhary could not make it to Chandigarh from Delhi as his flight was unable to take off due to bad weather. He was represented at the meeting by MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra.
Secretary quits during meeting
Aneesh Sidana from Jalalabad (west), who was recently appointed PPCC secretary, resigned from the post while the meeting was in progress. He has been associated with the Congress for the past 22 years.
"I resigned because I felt that the newly-constituted body has not given due representation to Hindus, especially those from the Arora community," said Sidana, adding that he would continue to work as a Congressman.
Kuljit Singh Nagra, who is also AICC secretary, told dissidents that the Congress high command would not tolerate arm-twisting tactics. He said Bajwa had full backing of the party high command.
Bajwa challenges Sukhbir on corruption
Partap Singh Bajwa condemned Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal for alleging that money changed hands in the Congress during the constitution of the PPCC list.
In response to a query, Bajwa said if Sukhbir could prove that even one rupee was exchanged in the formation of the PPCC body, he was ready to quit politics. "Let him prove the allegation. Can he (Sukhbir) make the same allegation in the presence of his children in front of Guru Granth Sahib? I am ready to do the same," said Bajwa while alleging that Sukhbir was the most corrupt politician in the state.