Congress MP and former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh underlined his strength on Sunday as he gathered 35 of the party’s 45 MLAs at a lunch here, pegged as a show of strength against his bête noire and state unit president Partap Singh Bajwa. Going further, he announced a rally in his Lok Sabha segment of Amritsar on January 22, the day BJP’s national president Amit Shah is to hold a rally there too.
Later in the day, Bajwa tried a googly by saying that he too would attend the rally: “It’ a PPCC programme that has been endorsed by Captain Amarinder... and modalities would be chalked out in consultation with the party high command.” But Amarinder, while welcoming “anyone” to attend, said there was “no question of anyone else working out the modalities”.
Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar had made the Captain camp’s intentions clear after the lunch meet: “These are times of personality-based electioneering. It’s not the BJP but Narendra Modi who won the Lok Sabha elections. In such a scenario, only Captain Amarinder has the charisma to take on the Centre and the state government. You can’t impose leaders on people. People’s love makes a leader.”
Amarinder plans to visit Delhi to invite Congress national president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the rally, from where he intends to start a statewide campaign on the drugs issue.
The BJP’s show of strength too is fashioned as the launch of a campaign against the drug menace, a prime issue in the state that gained traction in the LS polls and is also proving a divisive factor in the SAD-BJP alliance. Captain’s camp has termed its programme as ‘Lalkaar (challenge) Rally’.
The erstwhile Patiala royal’s lunch came two days after he met party president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to seek Bajwa’s removal. That move had followed a prolonged war of words ever since Bajwa succeeded Amarinder as the state Congress chief after a second consecutive loss in the Vidhan Sabha polls.
With the meet, Amarinder also sought to put an end to speculation of him joining the BJP. Former MP Jagmeet Brar recently quit the Congress and is set to join the saffron party, which has been looking to add prominent Sikh faces amid speculation that it wants to break up with the SAD and go it alone in the elections due in 2017.
Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu; his cousin, MLA Gurkirat Kotli; Congress national secretary Ashwani Sekhri, and former MLA Avtar Henry, all of whom had so far not shown open support to Amarinder, were among the around 50 ex-MLAs and other leaders at the luncheon. “It’s the right time to attack the SAD-BJP, and only Captain Amarinder Singh can lead the Congress,” said Bittu.
Prominent absentees included former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Indian Youth Congress president Amrinder Singh Warring.
Such was Amarinder’s keenness to send a message that a group of MLAs led by Sunil Jakhar and Sukhjinder Randhawa even went to the house of his known detractor Brahm Mohindra to request him to join the rally after he did not come for the lunch.
Sources said the MLAs decided Amarinder won’t now ask the high command for a change of guard; instead, “party leaders will convey the sentiment of Punjab Congressmen”. Jakhar, who is leader of opposition in the assembly, Randhawa, and Lal Singh have been deputed to unite warring factions in Amarinder’s favour.
Amarinder thanked the leaders and said that he would “leave no stone unturned” to fight the SAD-BJP misrule and bring the Congress to power. He said he would “personally” ensure that all party leaders attend the rally.
The campaign would also be against the NDA government’s ordinance diluting the Land Acquisition Act, the leaders said.
Prominent among those present at Captain Amarinder Singh’s show of strength were CLP leader Sunil Jakhar, Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, former state unit chief Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Punjab Youth Congress president Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary, Chaudhry Jagjit Singh, Avtar Henry, Rana KP Singh, Bir Devinder Singh and Harbans Kaur Dullo, besides Preneet Kaur (Amarinder’s wife), Rana Gurjit Singh, Raj Kumar Verka, Kewal Dhillon, OP Soni, Balbir Sidhu, Jagmohan Kang. Arvind Khanna and Randeep Singh Nabha were among those had could not make it due to prior engagements, said Amarinder’s aide BIS Chahal.
Former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, IYC president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, and MLAs Brahm Mohindra, Ajit Inder Singh Mofar, Kuljit Singh Nagra, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Rakesh Pandey.