Poll defeat, knives out in Punjab Congress

Chandigarh: It has lost but it is still fighting. Ironical as it may sound, that is the state of affairs in the Punjab Congress these days.

Having lost the assembly elections to the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance, the gloves are out for top leaders of the Congress who are openly targeting and blaming each other for what they call a ‘surprise’ defeat.

Several leaders have started gunning for Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh, blaming him for the party missing an opportunity to come back to power. But their clamour has come at a time when he, right on day one of the loss, took the entire blame on himself.

The outburst against one another came even after the Congress high command asked them not to go public with their differences.

Amarinder, after all, had to be the fall guy. It was he who was breaking from the Congress tradition of not naming a leader for the chief minister’s post before the election was over but was named as the Congress man for the post by none other than powerful Rahul Gandhi.

The voices of dissent against Amarinder have come from former chief minister and his bête noire within the Congress, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Gurdaspur MP Pratap Singh Bajwa, Jagmeet Brar, defeated legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira and many others.

In the Congress office at Faridkot, party leaders even blackened the face of Amarinder on a poster last week.

It is not only Amarinder who is drawing flak for the defeat but his coterie of advisers too. Many senior Congress leaders say this coterie, led by millionaire legislator Arvind Khanna, who is related to Amarinder, made the state Congress chief inaccessible even to top leaders.

Bhattal even accused Amarinder and his coterie of collecting over Rs.500 crore in the run-up to elections. “I want to know where this money has gone,” Bhattal said here.

But Amarinder, who has not shown any inclination of stepping down as the state Congress president, has defended his coterie. He said senior leaders needed advisers to function.

“If Bhattal can show me from where all the money came, I will let her know where it has gone,” Amarinder retorted.

While Bhattal claims that the majority of the candidates handpicked by Amarinder lost, Amarinder says Bhattal could not ensure the victory of those supported by her.

In the elections, Amarinder’s son Raninder Singh lost from Samana while Bhattal’s son-in-law Vikram Singh Bajwa lost from Sahnewal near Ludhiana.

Gurdaspur MP Pratap Bajwa and former legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira have been demanding a leadership change. They want a younger leader to hold the reins of the party.

The Congress high command has appointed legislator Sunil Jakhar, son of former Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar, as the Congress legislative party leader in the assembly. The post was earlier held by Bhattal.

Amarinder this week got the defeated legislators together in Chandigarh. Though it was supposed to be a meeting to air views freely, it turned out to be just a tea party. Only four of the nearly 70 defeated legislators who came aired their views, that too briefly.

The final word on having or not having a leadership change in Punjab Congress has to come now from the party’s central leadership.

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