Blood is thicker than water. At least when political clans want to hold on to power. At a time when the Congress is witnessing bitter family feuds between brothers over allotment of tickets at as many as three seats, all is quiet at Qadian in the border district of Gurdaspur.
Rajya Sabha MP Partap Bajwa’s younger brother, Fateh Jang (58), is the new challenger from the family turf after Partap’s MLA wife Charanjit Bajwa opted out of the race in his favour. There is peace at Bajwas’ home and for the time being, even between Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh and Partap, as the latter has to defend the family seat and muster a win for his brother to prove the clan’s political prowess. Amarinder has an admirer in Fateh and the bonhomie is mutual as Captain too courts the younger brother to ruffle Bajwa’s feathers.
LEGACY OF AN OLD RIVALRY
But historically though, the Bajwas have inherited the old rivalry between their father Satnam Bajwa and families of two other Congress MLAs from Gurdaspur, Sukhjinder Randhawa and Tripat Bajwa. Satnam started the clan’s political innings by entering the poll fray as a Congress candidate from Sri Hargobindpur in 1962. His winning streak continued in the next three consecutive state elections till 1977 as a Akali candidate.He became a minister in the Justice Gurnam Singh government and returned back to the Congress after 1977.
The next Punjab elections were held in 1980, when Satnam lost as a Congress candidate from Kahnuwan, which was carved out after delimitation. In 1985, he was embroiled in a bitter feud with then Punjab Congress chief Santokh Randhawa. Both the Majha chieftans had to face disciplinary action and it is believed that both were denied tickets as a fallout. The other theory is that no winning candidate of Congress was given ticket as part of a tacit understanding between Congress and Akalis to let the latter win following the Rajiv-Longowal accord in 1985.
The rivalry continues to this day as Santokh’s son, Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder, remains a staunch Bajwa baiter. The other old rivalry that has not yet been buried is between the family of Satnam Bajwa and Congress MLA from Fatehgarh Churian, Tripat , who lost the Qadian election in 2007 and believes the seat was “usurped” by Partap in 2012 polls.
Tragedy stuck the Bajwa family on June 10, 1987, when Satnam was gunned down by terrorists at his farmhouse in Amritsar. Partap took on the family legacy and successfully contested the 1992 polls from Kahnuwan assembly seat. He lost it in 1997 state elections but reclaimed it again in the 2002 and 2007 state polls. Fateh, who was waiting in the hustings, staked his claim to the neighbouring Sri Hargobindpur but lost the Akali bastion by a slender margin. He again tried his luck in the 2009 bypoll from Kahnuwan after Partap trounced Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna of the BJP from Gurdaspur in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, but lost. In the 2012 state polls, Bajwa batted for his wife Charanjit and the bad blood between the brothers saw Fateh openly switching loyalty to the Amarinder camp.
But Amarinder could not ensure a win for the Congress in the 2012 state polls and Bajwa replaced him as the state party chief. This time, family took precedence and Fateh stood by his brother and managed the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) office for brother. But Bajwa failed to win over Captain’s loyalists nor could he upstage them through his “B-team”. With help of the Majha brigade of Tripat and Sukhjinder and a majority of other MLAs to his side, Amarinder kept Bajwa off-balance and made a comeback last year to command the party a third time in state elections.
Like many other political dynasties, Captain’s ‘one family, one ticket’ rule has restricted the Bajwas to one seat and Fateh this time ensured he grabbed a third chance to redeem his earlier two defeats. Though Fateh, who is younger to Partap by just a year-and-half, too, started off as a student leader at DAV College like his brother, the course of their political destinies has not been the same. He denies there is any sibling rivalry and says he has left behind the bitterness over Charanjit being given the Qadian ticket over him. “Partap told me I had lost two state polls so my sister-in-law Charanjit was a safer bet. I was not happy but I supported her. My brother is a father figure of the family and he did what he thought was right,” he says. He admits she was a reluctant politician and credits her for letting him stake a claim this time. Fateh says Bajwa is doing all he can and even toured his seat in October and November.
But will he leave it for his brother in the next state elections after his brother’s Rajya Sabha stint is over? Fateh nods a quick yes. “I will leave it happily.” But finds the other question, more tricky. Who between Amarinder and Bajwa he is more close to? He ponders before adding, “I am a straight forward person and Captain likes that about me. So I respect Captain and love my brother.” Between the two brothers, there are already two claimants to the legacy. Fateh has a daughter and two sons. The second, Kanwar Partap, is being already groomed for politics and is a general secretary of the Punjab Youth Congress. His youngest son, Arjun, will debut in a Bollywood movie, Band of Maharajas. Partap’s only son, Vikram Partap, is as old as Arjun and not yet on state’s political scene.
But Bajwas proudly claim the family tree has more members. They have an elder brother, Brigadier MPS Bajwa, and two sisters, Narinder and Maninder, from their father’s first marriage. “Our brother was a part of the Kargil war and we are one big happy family,” Fateh says.