In a “picture-perfect” coronation, he had succeeded former CM and Patiala royal Capt Amarinder Singh to the throne of Punjab Congress chief. But when Partap Bajwa bowed out as “captain” on Thursday, it was after playing a bitter innings for two years and a half.
An appointee of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Bajwa was quick to earn the loyalty of a majority of Congressmen, barring staunch Amarinder loyalists. Unlike the Captain, whom his political opponents brand as a “fair-weather” and “inaccessible” politician, Bajwa, many years his junior, was a street-fighter, who took on the ruling SAD-BJP alliance through dharnas and protests. A good orator, he used his ready wit and satire to disarm his opponents.
But more often than not, his tall announcements failed in execution, partly owing to his inability to take everyone along. His overriding ambition to lord over the Punjab Congress soon led to turf wars with Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, and later other Amarinder loyalists. His way of ensuring loyalty by asking people to take a pledge did not help his image either. A non-trusting person, he failed to emerge as a team leader and often used his gift of wit and satire to rub people the wrong way.
Many in Congress believe it was Bajwa’s “insecurity” that helped Amarinder regain the lost ground. After all, the credit for resurrecting the Captain by making him contest against BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley in the 2014 polls goes to him. Amarinder’s victory made him a big slayer while Bajwa, who had not nurtured his own constituency, lost both his seat and face in the elections.
An emboldened Amarinder kept Bajwa off-balance ever since by his shows of strength through luncheons and power dinners. As the Congress split was wide open, the party lost three bypolls under Bajwa’s captaincy, ironically forced by resignation of Amarinder loyalists.
It goes to Bajwa’s credit that he forced Amarinder to experience the heat and dust of Punjab by holding parallel rallies. But the rallies also proved the final blow to his presidency as Amarinder and his band of loyalists mustered big crowds and openly defied Bajwa’s authority. With Rahul’s backing, Bajwa survived the onslaught of his own party for over two years. But the man who said he had more lives (as state chief) than a cat’s nine, finally seems to have lived his last.