The battle between Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Partap Singh Bajwa and the party’s national secretary, Batala MLA Ashwani Sekhri, over distribution of tickets for the civic body polls took a drastic turn on Monday, as Sekhri announced that he would resign from the party post as well as the assembly.
Putting the ball in the party high command’s court, he declared, “I will quit both the posts and send my resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. If she desires, she can send it to the speaker of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.” Sekhri said he was taking the step over his inability to protect the interests of local Congress workers who were “insulted by Bajwa and his brother Fateh (Jang Bajwa)”.
He even alleged threat calls from the Bajwa camp. “On Sunday, I got a call from a close associate of Bajwa, who threatened me with dire consequences if I denied tickets to Bajwa’s supporters. I informed Punjab DGP (director general of police) Sumedh Singh Saini and ADGP Hardeep Singh Dhillon, who assured me of full protection.”
“There is jungle raj in the PPCC, and I am feeling suffocated in such a feudal set-up,” Sekhri said. Bajwa was not available for comment.
On the last day of allotment of party symbols, infighting intensified in Gurdaspur, too, where PPCC member and former MLA Raman Bahl accused Bajwa of “either being the blind Dhritarashtra of Mahabharata or the custodian of land-grabbers”. In Pathankot, former MLA Raman Bhalla, who has already quit as PPCC treasurer, threatened to slap a legal suit against district Congress president Anil Vij for “tarnishing” his image.
There was some unrest in Faridkot too, where Congress MLA and district unit chief Joginder Singh Panjgrain said the authority letters sent by Bajwa created total confusion: “We had already distributed the tickets and our candidates had filed the nomination papers; but Bajwa’s aide reached with a different list at the last moment. Bajwa is on a suicide mission — he will go but not before finishing the party.”
The civic polls have turned into a virtual civil war in the Congress particularly in Batala as Bajwa’s aide Satnam Singh Nijjar, who was deputed to submit documents for allotment of symbol, lodged a police complaint against Sekhri and his men for “debarring candidates from contesting on Congress symbol”.
Sekhri said the party’s Punjab in-charge Harish Chowdhary had assured to send an observer to hand over the symbol authorisation, but they kept waiting at the office of the returning officer till 2.30pm. “Bajwa sent a list of candidates, and I do not even know a majority of them. So, 28 of our candidates decided to withdraw their nominations,” he said.