Within days of appointing its senior leader Kamal Nath the general secretary in-charge of poll-bound Punjab, the Congress party found it had painted itself into a corner by overlooking past allegations that he had a role in anti-Sikh violence of 1984, party sources said on Thursday.
While party leaders in Delhi maintained that since Nath had been cleared of all charges there was no problem with appointing him in-charge of Punjab affairs, sources in the Punjab Congress said the move was seen as “insensitive” in a state where the 1984 carnage remains an emotive issue.
“He was deployed for his unparalleled organisational skills and vast experience. After what happened in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, we have to do whatever we can to revive the party,” a senior leader said in New Delhi justifying the appointment. Party sources said Nath was roped in for Punjab for his election and resource management capabilities.
With the Aam Aadmi Party, seen as a strong contender in the state, and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party combine raking up the 1984 violence after Nath’s appointment, the former union minister wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi late on Wednesday asking to be relieved of the charge.
Party sources said that the Congress wants the election campaign in Punjab to focus on the drug addiction problem, governance deficit and the farmers’ distress in the state. “With Kamal Nath at the helm, we would have been left firefighting and answering questions about 1984. AAP is a party that won’t stop at anything. They would have been everywhere waving black flags each time he came to Punjab,” a senior leader from the state said.
On Wednesday afternoon, before he wrote to Gandhi, Nath met a key party strategist where the issue of his resignation was settled. Nath on Thursday said that the Nanawati commission had absolved him of all charges that were first raised only in 2005.
The party continued to defend the former union minister on Thursday. “AAP has not credibility. Their statement for reopening the case after 32 years is ridiculous because there was no case,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma said.
“He stepped down on his own because his appointment was being used to create a smokescreen for what is happening in Punjab,” Sharma said.