The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) seems eager to sideline party MLA from Raja Sansi, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, who had questioned the leadership of PPCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa, for which he has been hauled up by the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
Though the AICC is yet to decide on whether to take disciplinary action against Sarkaria for his public criticism of Bajwa, the PPCC has decided to dump him. This became evident when Bajwa along with vice-president and MLA OP Soni drove down to the residence of former minister Parminder Singh at Chogawan - in the Raja Sansi constituency - to hold a party meeting on Wednesday.
Parminder had represented the Raja Sansi constituency when late Beant Singh was the chief minister. He was then a minister of state in the government.
Thereafter, Sarkaria became the face of the Congress in the Raja Sansi segment, winning the last two elections in 2007 and 2012.
This apparently did not go down well with Parminder, who has since been at loggerheads with Sarkaria and has even written to the high command against him.
The meeting at Parminder Singh's residence was held to chalk out the party's strategy for the public rally at Khasa town on December 22 as part of the mass contact programme.
Veteran Congressman Sukhdev Singh Shahbazpuri, who also attended the meeting, will oversee arrangements for the Khasa rally.
Shahbazpuri has been given preference over Tarsem Singh DC, who had lost the last Assembly elections from the Attari (reserve) constituency.
Shahbazpuri had himself represented this segment in the 1990s.
The PPCC preferred Shahbazpuri as Tarsem is considered close to Sarkaria. It was Sarkaria and Tarsem, who had jointly organised the visit of Capt Amarinder in October to the Bhagtawala grain market, following reports that farmers were not being paid adequate prices for their paddy by the state procurement agencies.
Soni, who is party in charge of the Majha belt and Sarkaria, don't share good terms.
Soni had blamed Sarkaria for his defeat in the last Lok Sabha polls by a narrow margin from the Amritsar constituency. Sarkaria, on the other hand, claimed that Soni had initiated a secret campaign against him in the 2012 polls, in a bid to defeat him. Soni's ancestral village falls in the Raja Sansi segment and he has a vote bank in the constituency.
The visit of Bajwa to Chogawan has come at the right time for Parminder and he will not let go of this opportunity to revive his fortunes again. For this, he can count on Soni, with whom he has close links.
Asked about the meeting, Sarkaria said, "I was not invited. But then, why will they invite me and why will I go to a person's house, who has all along opposed me in the elections".
He, however, refused to comment on his criticism of the state leadership or of the open letter that he had written to the party high command. "I have given my reply," he added.
Sarkaria had given a detailed reply on his actions to Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar in October. Jakhar had forwarded the letter to AICC secretary, Harish Rawat, who is the in charge of Punjab.
So far, the disgruntled MLA has received no call from the AICC or from Rawat. This was probably because the party was busy in the recently concluded Assembly polls in five states.
Sarkaria, a close confidant of former PPCC president Capt Amarinder Singh, had in his letter to the party high command in September stated that the former chief minister was still the best to lead the party in Punjab.
He had even gone to the extent of alleging that Bajwa had maintained links with militants during the period of terrorism in Punjab.
Bajwa addresses party workers
The party meeting at Chogawan turned into a public rally as Parminder seemed keen to demonstrate his popularity before Bajwa. A large number of party workers assembled at his house to hear out the PPCC chief.
Some of the workers complained before Bajwa that Sarkaria was never available to them and had even refused to support them in critical times. They took turns to praise Parminder.
Bajwa said the situation in Punjab was 'critical' as the Shiromani Akali Dal had become a 'shelter' for gangsters.