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HindustanTimes Sun,28 Dec 2014

Past imperfect, present tense: Cong future at stake

Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, May 26, 2014
First Published: 10:04 IST(26/5/2014) | Last Updated: 08:48 IST(27/5/2014)

The dice was thrown the day a reluctant Capt Amarinder Singh was fielded against BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley in Amritsar. The plot was master minded by none other than his successor in the Punjab Congress chief ’s chair, Partap Singh Bajwa, who was seeking re-election from Gurdaspur himself and would not agree to anything less than confining his bête noire to one seat.

Among the many possibilities both win, both lose, one of them wins — the last, Amarinder wins while he loses, was the least that Bajwa expected to come true.

It did, and Bajwa found himself humbled not just in a poll war but also before the former chief minister, who came out as his party’s biggest slayer at a time when most others bit the dust.

Still, it seemed that Amarinder would wait for the high command to shuffle the cards. But his advisers would not have it delayed. So, the first salvo came soon after the results from Amarinder “loyalist” Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, a fencesitter who was among the first to welcome Bajwa’s ascent to presidency.

UNENDING WAR OF SUCCESSION
As an intense blame game now ra g es between the past and present state chiefs, it is the future of Congress which is once again at stake. Bajwa and Amarinder never united to fight the SAD-BJP, letting the Aam Aadmi Party make inroads into its territory.

In fact, ever since the change of guard, the two have only tried to steal each other’s thunder. On the day of Bajwa’s coronation in March last year, Amarinder held a parallel show of strength by hosting a lunch for his loyalists.

When Bajwa tried to don the mantle of a street-fighter by embarking on a Punjab tour, Amarinder kicked off a parallel tour. When Bajwa demanded a CBI probe into the drug racket, Amarinder supported the Punjab Police investig ation. In October, they openly traded barbs before party vice-president Rahul Gandhi at Sangrur.

POACHING ON LOYALISTS
All this while, they also poached the other’s loyalists. As the turf war intensified, Bajwa even asked some Congress leaders to pledge their loyalty to him.

But his bid to woo a few through plum posts in the state executive, while dumping Captain’s loyalists, backfired, winning him more enemies than friends.

Worse, he never kept his promises, be it launching a drive to enrol jobless youth or a stir against property tax. His attempt to seek CBI probe into the drug racket by going to all districts too ended in a whimper.

A one-man show, Bajwa even tried to intrude into the turf of leader of opposition in the assembly, Sunil Jakhar. But his only feat was winning over the two people who mattered in Delhi — general secretary Shakeel Ahmed and secretary Harish Chaudhary, incharges of the Punjab unit.

While Bajwa played by proxy, the Captain was upfront in his criticism and never let Bajwa find his feet in the Punjab Congress as his loyalists did his bidding.

‘CHANGE IMMINENT’
Now, analysts say the demand for Bajwa’s ouster is on expected lines. “The Congress is facing such a situation in many states and even at the national level.

But the constant bickering within Punjab Congress has dented its prospects. Bajwa’s grouse is genuine. He never got the chance to prove himself as the constant bickering reduced his capacity.

But Amarinder has emerged as the rallying point who can revive the Congress,” says Kuldip Singh, assistant professor of political science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

Says Mohammad Khalid, political science professor at Panjab University, Chandigarh, “After its worst-ever defeat, heads will roll in the Congress; The open mudslinging will only weaken the party further.”

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