Rumbling in ruling Cong: Kharge panel meets 25 Punjab Cong leaders

Some state ministers, MLAs raise concern over state govt losing ground in battle of public perception on sacrilege, police firing cases
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar seen after attending a party meeting in New Delhi on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar seen after attending a party meeting in New Delhi on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)
Published on Jun 01, 2021 01:23 AM IST
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Amid an attempt by the Congress leadership to resolve factionalism in the state unit, several ministers and MLAs from Punjab on Monday conveyed to the three-member committee headed by Rajya Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge their concern over the state government losing ground in the battle of public perception on sacrilege and police firing cases.

The committee constituted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi had one-on-one meetings with Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar and 25 cabinet ministers and MLAs in Delhi to hear their grievances and suggestions to find a solution to infighting and present a united face in the state assembly polls due early next year.

Cabinet ministers Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Charanjit Singh Channi, Aruna Chaudhary, OP Soni, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sunder Sham Arora and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, and MLAs Sangat Singh Gilzian, Raj Kumar Verka, Gurkirat Singh Kotli, Raj Kumar Chabbewal and Arun Dogra were among the prominent state leaders who met the panel.

At least four of them, including two senior ministers, confirmed pressing for prompt action in these sensitive cases before the state elections, besides raising other poll promises such as action on reports against drug dealers and cancellation of power purchase agreements, in their separate meetings with the committee. “We are battling perception of a government that has failed to deliver on these important poll promises. If decisive action is not taken now, it will diminish the party’s credibility in the eyes of people,” one of them told HT on the condition of anonymity after the meeting with the committee that also includes All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat and former MP Jai Prakash Agarwal.

Randhawa and Channi, who have been critical of chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh lately, are learnt to have raised the unfulfilled promises and vindictive action towards some party leaders, according to sources. Channi told reporters that their fight was on issues and not against any particular individual. Though most ministers and legislators were guarded and declined to disclose details of their interaction, they said there was no discussion on leadership change.

Jakhar said there were differences of opinion in the party on action against those who were behind or involved in sacrilege and police firing on protesters, but the government was determined to act in these cases. “The perpetrators in these cases will be caught and the issue will be resolved. However, those who have been backstabbing their own party by seeking the ED and CBI probes into illicit liquor seizures in the state have been totally exposed. Why are they silent on an illicit liquor racket busted at Badal village?” he asked, hitting out at Rajya Sabha MPs Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo.

The Punjab Congress president was the first to meet the committee at 15, Gurdwara Rakabganj Road office, which is also the party’s “war room”, and then others were called one by one. The ministers and MLAs were asked to give their suggestions and allowed as much time as they wanted with Kharge and his team noting down their suggestions.

Dalit CM demand, OBC representation

Amritsar West legislator Raj Kumar Verka raised the demand for a Dalit CM face in the state. “It is time someone from the community heads the Congress government in the state,” he said, expressing confidence that they would get some good news soon.

Urmar MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian also made a pitch for representation for OBCs in the state cabinet, stating there was not even a minister from the community. Besides raising issues related to development works in their constituencies, several members also spoke to the committee on the adverse consequences of infighting on poll prospects.

Though a senior minister is said to have sought action against former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for his public statements criticising the state government and the chief minister, he did not respond to calls.

Agarwal, while confirming that most members were concerned about the political fallout of the high court order in the Kotkapura police firing case, said there was no crisis or groupism in the state Congress. “Their concerns are not something that cannot be addressed,” he said, after the exercise that lasted close to seven hours.

Sidhu and Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh are among the next batch of 25 ministers and MLAs scheduled to meet the committee on Tuesday.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021