The Congress found fresh ammunition to take on the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in the 2017 Punjab assembly polls after chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal joined its fold on Friday.
The junior Badal, chief of the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) that he formed in 2011 after breaking ranks with the Akalis, merged his party with the Congress after meeting its vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi.
Confirming the development, former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa said Badal’s entry would give the party a fresh boost to its poll campaign.
Punjab is heading for a triangular contest with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) trying to expand its footprint beyond Delhi through the state.
“He is a promising face ... is secular in character and holds credibility in the Malwa region,” Bajwa said.
However, reports suggested that Badal’s entry has been opposed by Congress leaders in the Malwa belt, considered a stronghold of the PPP leader.
In a recent interview to Hindustan Times, Badal said he wanted to tie up with the AAP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but was now in talks with the Congress.
Former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who recently replaced Bajwa as the state Congress chief, welcomed the PPP’s merger — as did another top-rung party leader, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
Singh had revealed earlier that talks were on with Badal for a possible Congress-PPP union.
Bhattal, who is also a former chief minister, said Badal’s presence will help the party take on the ruling SAD in a big way.
A former finance minister in the previous SAD-BJP government, the nephew parted ways with the ruling Badals towards the end of 2010, alleging that his opinion on the state’s fiscal health was rebutted.
He subsequently launched the PPP on March 27, 2011, lambasting both the Akalis and Congress. But the PPP failed to open its account in the 2012 assembly elections.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he lost a close contest to the chief minister’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is now a minister in the Narendra Modi government, in Bathinda constituency by nearly 20,000 votes.
(With inputs from agencies)