After a short-lived show of unity, the Congress split is once again wide open, both inside the House and outside. Though an angry Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh did finally reach the crucial meeting of Punjab leaders with party president Rahul Gandhi and poll strategist Prashant Kishor at New Delhi on Saturday, the former did not hide his disappointment at being “ignored” by the party high command while nominating candidates for Rajya Sabha from the state.
Both party’s picks — former state Congress presidents Pratap Bajwa and Shamsher Dullo — are not only known Amarinder-baiters but were chosen overruling his recommendation. Before the party decided to allot one of the berths to a candidate from SC community, Amarinder had proposed names of his loyalists — former union minister and Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari and former Congress legislative party leader Sunil Jakhar. However, after the party decided to play the Dalit card, Amarinder proposed the name of singer Hans Raj Hans and Jakhar. While Hans was dropped unceremoniously from the list after being shortlisted, Jakhar, who had sided with Amarinder in his war with Bajwa, was never considered.
While his choice of Hans was described as disaster by many Congress MLAs, Amarinder, however, denied he was batting for his loyalists. He said he had recommended the names of Jakhar and Hans keeping next year’s assembly elections in mind. “We have to take decisions keeping the elections in mind. If one of the seats had to go to a Dalit, we could have nominated a Balmiki leader.
The only important post given to a Balmiki leader is that of vice-president of the National Scheduled Castes Commission to MLA Raj Kumar Verka.
As for Jakhar, he has done a great job as leader of opposition and I told Congress president Sonia Gandhi that a good man like him should not be wasted. I am disappointed at the decision but everything can’t happen as per my recommendations,” Amarinder told HT ahead of the meeting. Amarinder had to pacify MLAs annoyed at the Rajya Sabha nominations at his residence on Friday morning.
Though Jakhar was not present at Amarinder’s residence as MLAs rooted for him, fireworks were later witnessed at the CLP meeting held at Channi’s residence when Jakhar fired angry salvos at general secretary incharge of Punjab Shakeel Ahmad and Harish Chaudhary saying not Amarinder but the party was being weakened in the state.
The split outside has also dampened the party’s spirit inside the assembly during the budget session. In his debut session as leader of opposition, Charanjit Channi is struggling to outwit the ruling SAD-BJP alliance, which hijacked his proposed amendment of de-notifying land acquired for SutlejYamuna Link (SYL) through a resolution moved by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal as the leader of House. Many MLAs accused him of keeping the CLP in the dark about the amendment.
On Friday, Channi had to announce a boycott of the question hour as just three MLAs were present.
“The MLAs were clueless about the floor strategy. After boycott of question hour, a few Congress MLAs, including Channi, tried to show unnecessary bravado during motion of thanks on the governor’s address by taking on chief parliamentary secretary Virsa Singh Valtoha while most kept sitting on their chairs. Though Channi is trying his best, it would have augured well for the party had they picked a CLP leader on basis of experience and not just caste credentials in an election year,” a Congress MLA said.
The party’s decision to play the Dalit card in the Rajya Sabha elections has also irked many oldtimers. “I am surprised that every decision is being taken on basis of caste and not merit. It has never been the case in Congress before,” another senior state leader added, requesting anonymity.