The Congress appointed on Sunday Himachal Pradesh lawmaker Asha Kumari as the party’s Punjab in-charge in place of senior leader Kamal Nath, triggering a fresh controversy as she has been convicted of usurping land in her home state.
Kumari, the MLA for Dalhousie, was convicted on February 26 in a 1998 land grab case and sentenced to a year in jail apart from a fine of Rs 8,000. The court in Chamba held her guilty of criminal conspiracy.
She was accused of manipulating revenue records, fabricating wills and transferring about 24 acres of government forest land in the name of her husband Brijender Singh. But on March 19, the Himachal Pradesh high court suspended the sentence.
Sixty-one-year-old Kumari is currently out on bail.
Her appointment gave fodder to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to corner the Congress.
“First it was Kamal Nath and now Asha Kumari. I think they (Congress) don’t have good leaders,” Punjab BJP leader Vineet Joshi said, terming the appointment as “unfortunate and disgusting”.
The two parties earlier launched a stinging attack on Nath for his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, prompting him to resign on June 15 barely a few days after being given the post.
The two appointments have put the Congress on the back foot ahead of next year’s crucial assembly elections in the state.
As AICC secretary, Kumari was looking after the party’s affairs in Haryana. Congress sources indicated that Punjab will be a temporary arrangement for her till the leadership does an organisational reshuffle.
In Punjab Congress circles, the appointment of a lightweight in the party is widely seen as a “win-win situation” for state chief Captain Amarinder Singh who will now apparently have a “free hand” in the run-up to the polls.
The Congress is desperately seeking a win in Punjab to stem the electoral downslide following the debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
For his part, Amarinder said he will work in close coordination with Kumari. “She wouldn’t create problems for Punjab,” he said. “I can work closely with her as she is politically wise with positive approach.”
Punjab Congress functionaries feel that senior leaders used to create separate power centres and divide the party but the fresh move will empower Amarinder. Senior leader Sunil Jakhar said Kumari will act as a bridge between the state unit and the central leadership.
Jakhar said Kumari’s appointment is part of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s long-term strategy to empower the regional leadership.