Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi held separate meetings with Punjab Congress MLAs in New Delhi on Thursday to sort out the leadership crisis in the state unit, asking them if deputy leader in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh still had the ability to lead the party back to power in the 2017 assembly polls.
The leadership crisis in Punjab Congress deepened nearly a month ago when Amarinder began lambasting state party president Partap Singh Bajwa on various fora and demanded a change in the state leadership in case the Congress wanted to be back in power in the next assembly polls.
Perturbed over Amarinder’s open opposition to the state leadership, the Congress high command indicated that it was willing to concede to Amarinder’s demand if the latter had no objection in supporting Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni in place of Bajwa. The issue, however, lingered without any decision being taken by the party high command.
To find a solution to the crisis, Rahul met six Punjab Congress MLAs at his residence at Tughlak Lane on Thursday. These were Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Rana Gurjit Singh, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Ramanjit Singh Sikki and Lal Singh.
All these are Amarinder loyalists and during their meeting with the party vice-president they asserted that only Amarinder had the charisma to bring back the party to power in the state.
The Congress MLAs told HT that Rahul was keen to know what immediate steps the party should take to resolve the crisis and to make it a cohesive unit before the polls.
Majority of Amarinder loyalists, while dumping the proposal of the high command to form a panel of leaders to bring unity in the Punjab Congress, told Rahul that instead of letting the problem linger it had to be resolved immediately. They said the high command had to choose one leader and thereafter support him or her to the hilt.
Since all MLAs who met Rahul were rooting for Amarinder, so when Rahul specifically asked them if Amarinder still had the ability to bring the party back to power, they replied in the affirmative.
During his meeting with Rana Gurjit Singh and Ramanjit Singh Sikki, Rahul asked them why Amarinder was under the impression that he was against him. “I am not against him. It is just that I have to see the party affairs from a national perspective,” Rahul told Rana Gurjit and Sikki.
The Congress MLAs also told Rahul that the Shiromani Akali Dal was trying to flare up religious tempers in the state and following a Panthic agenda to regain power for the third time, so only Amarinder could counter the Akalis.
Rahul reminded the MLAs that under Amarinder’s leadership the party had already lost twice (2007 and 2012), which had never happened in the history of Punjab. Rahul also shared his concern about the rising popularity of AAP in Punjab and if the party could counter it.