In the run-up to the 2017 polls, Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh is trying to outwit the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party in the perception game.
On Monday, Amarinder kicked off his “ghar wapsi” programme by bringing disgruntled Akali leaders back into the party fold. Though bestowed with plum posts by SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab information commissioner Harinder Mann --- who put in his papers on Friday ---and Patiala district planning committee chief Deepinder Dhillon, an old-loyalist of Amarinder’s wife and Patiala MLA Preneet Kaur, were inducted into the Congress. The duo was expelled by Sukhbir on Sunday evening after he got wind of their desertion.
Both Dhillon and Mann had earlier defected from the Congress to the SAD after denial of ticket and have returned as prospects of wresting tickets from their bastions, Dera Bassi and Samana, respectively, look bleak with Akali stalwarts Surjit Singh Rakhra and NK Sharma as sitting MLAs.
Amarinder, however, denied it was politics of opportunism. Asked if those denied ticket by the Congress in earlier elections were now hot contenders, he said, “Both are good candidates. However, at times, good people get left out in ticket distribution as each seat has many contenders. They have joined us without any conditions. Ticket allotment is a prerogative of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In the coming days, not only those who had left us will join the Congress but also many traditional Akalis and AAP leaders will leave the sinking ships,” he claimed.
Among the first of disgruntled AAP leaders to jump onto the Congress bandwagon would be Balkar Sidhu, a Punjabi singer, whose candidature for Talwandi Sabo bypoll was cancelled by AAP after announcement in August 2014. He is joining Congress on Tuesday in Amarinder’s presence.
On Brar and Mann joining the Congress, Amarinder said it clearly reflected the anti-Akali mood prevailing in Punjab. “It also indicates that the people were looking forward to the Congress to form government in the state,” he added.
“In the coming days, many artistes, social workers and other prominent people will join the Congress. But we will be selective about whom to induct,” Amarinder told HT.
‘For Punjab, my workers’
Answering media queries, Deepinder said he was joining the Congress to support Amarinder “in the best interest” of Punjab and for his workers. Steering clear of attacking Badals, he trained his guns on NK Sharma, saying he was targeting his workers and the SAD high command was doing nothing about it. “I now challenge Sharma to slap a false case against my workers,” he said.
Mann, who has been holding meetings in Samana as information commissioner and was given jurisdiction over the DC and tehsil offices of Patiala district, said there is nothing wrong in it as he is a politician first and has always stayed in touch with his people. “I have been with my people always, even as an information commissioner,” he added.