As a clueless Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi watched, Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and his predecessor Capt Amarinder Singh had a no-holds-barred exchange of barbs in Sangrur on Thursday.
Not to miss an opportunity of taking Bajwa head-on, Amarinder made a U-turn from his pronouncement of skipping the function over "not being seated with the scion of the Gandhi family on the dais" after being called up by general secretary in-charge of Punjab Shakeel Ahmed.
Amarinder excused himself from "a not-to-be-missed" court hearing in Mohali after his advocate requested the judge to allow his absence owing to the Congress rally in Sangrur.
Interestingly, Amarinder, Bajwa and Leader of the Opposition Sunil Jakhar took the "ordinance route" to set the stage for a confrontation. Lavishing praise on the former chief minister, Jakhar said, "Like Amarinder terminated the contentious water-sharing treaty with Haryana despite the Supreme Court's orders to save Punjab's interests, you (Gandhi) took on the ill-conceived ordinance on convicted law-makers."
However, the trigger, in all certainty intentional, was Amarinder lauding Gandhi for forcing the withdrawal of the ordinance and exhorting the Gandhi scion to also take on those who are or had been involved in drug trade. The barb was not lost on Bajwa as the Captain had in a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused Bajwa of links with terror and drug traders. At his sarcastic best, Amarinder also skipped mentioning the names of Bajwa and Sangrur MP Vijay Inder Singla who has since switched loyalty to the new chief - while beginning his speech, only to acknowledge the "slip" during the course of his address.
Bajwa, in his turn, went all guns blazing to return the barbs. He said that unlike Amarinder, who had forgotten to mention the presence of his younger brother (Bajwa) on stage, he would like to acknowledge his predecessor's presence. He, too, used the "ordinance route" to target the former CM's ongoing court cases. Bajwa went on to say that any politician, irrespective of his political affiliations, should be barred from contesting the polls if he or she is facing a criminal case.
He then trained his guns at Amarinder's speech, wherein the latter had again exhorted Congressmen to take Akalis head-on, amid loud cheering by the crowd. "We will not spare any Akali for unleashing terror on Congress workers. Ehna nu lamme pawange (we will put them on the mat)," Amarinder had said in his inimitable style, sounding like one still at the helm of affairs in the Punjab Congress. Bajwa, who seemed to be itching to respond to Amarinder's barbs, outrightly rubbished Amarinder's rhetoric against the Akalis.
"This is no time to put the Akalis on the mat but for the party to get united. When the right time comes, we will certainly teach the Akalis a lesson. For that, we do not need any party supremos. It is easy to make statements and indulge in rabble-rousing, but it is the Congress workers who are at the receiving end. They are being booked in false criminal cases and no one comes to their help," Bajwa said.
A seemingly clueless Rahul, too, was seen clapping to Bajwa's utterances, while former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal was seen chuckling at the barbs she understood both in letter and spirit.