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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

With eye on polls, Rahul Gandhi asked Congress to up ante against Badals

Captain Amarinder Singh’s “no vendetta” line had not gone down well with Congress rank and file and the party high command was told if things continue this way, the party may have to face its consequences in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

punjab Updated: Sep 02, 2018 09:59 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Punjab CM  Captain Amarinder Singh
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh(HT File )
         

The onslaught of the ruling Congress on the previous Parkash Singh Badal regime has come after party president Rahul Gandhi’s nudge to up the ante against them ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s “no vendetta” line had not gone down well with Congress rank and file and the party high command was told if things continue this way, the Congress may have to face its consequences in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Even as Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and some party ministers and MLAs were awaiting to make the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission report on sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing on protesters to target the former CM and his son and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, Amarinder, on advice of some officers, declared to hand over the firing incidents at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan to the CBI, at a press conference after the first part of the four-part report was submitted to him.

According to party insiders, this turned some ministers and MLAs openly against the CM and rumblings grew to seek his replacement before the Lok Sabha polls. “Captain’s camp was told that the situation could lead to a revolt against the CM and Rahul too was not happy with this approach. Some Congress ministers and MLAs then met Amarinder and Jakhar to say it was a do-or-die situation for the party. They have to act and act now,” a senior party leader disclosed.

At the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting held before the session, Jakhar and many MLAs even went to the extent of warning the party of the damage from going soft on the Badals. Sensing the mood, Amarinder agreed to take back the cases from the CBI through a resolution in the state assembly and entrust them to a special investigation team (SIT).

Punjab is the only state to have returned the Congress with a two-thirds majority in the 2017 elections. And its performance in next year’s general elections in the state will also be a barometer of government’s popularity.

Its Capt vs Jakhar: SAD

Amarinder and Jakhar have different targets though. While Amarinder left no epithet to attack Badal, Jakhar realised the next day that Sukhbir has escaped “unhurt”, both in the commission report and the debate on it, and demanded that his role in firing and sacrilege incidents too be probed by the SIT.

Jakhar’s aggressive posturing hints that he is trying to make the government toe the party line. Amarinder and Jakhar are not on the same page on many issues. He sprung to local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s defence after he came under opposition and Amarinder’s fire for hugging Pakistan’s army general Qamar Javed Bajwa recently. He also opposed entry of some Amarinder loyalists in the cabinet expansion in April this year. But Jakhar denies any rift in the party.

“The government and party are one. We are exposing the Badals, as they head a Panthic party. It is people of Punjab who want action against culprits of sacrilege and police firing. We are only doing what was expected out of our government,” he says.

The Akali Dal says, however, says an open Jakhar versus Captain war is playing out. “It is battle of one-upmanship between the Captain loyalists and Jakhar, Sidhu and company. They are repeating the history of 1980s when then CM Darbara Singh and then Union home minister Giani Zail Singh tried to outshine each other. That internal fight finally led Punjab to the dark ages of militancy,” says SAD spokesman Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal.