Congress vs. Congress politics unfold in Punjab as ‘Team Rahul’ takes on Amarinder
Chandīgarh: the The Gandhi family intervened to dissuade Sachin Pilot from rocking the boat in Congress-ruled Rajasthan, but he remained a silent spectator of a concerted attack by Rahul Gandhi’s trusted lieutenants on Punjab’s Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, causing him as well as to his government an immense embarrassment.
Leading the Attack on the Congressional Government Over the recent hooch tragedy is a congressman Partap Singh Bajwa, a known critic of the prime minister. Bajwa is backed by two other former Youth Congress leaders who are known to be close to the former Congress speaker – Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and Gidderbaha MP Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.
Another leader who has joined Bajwa in attacking the government is MP Shamsher Singh Dullo.
Bajwa and Dullo had been appointed to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 with the support of the party’s high command, which chose them over the candidates of Punjab Congress leader Amarinder Singh.
The consumption of fake alcohol resulted in the death of 121 people in three border districts of Punjab earlier this month. While the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) launched an offensive against the Congress government, what is most newsworthy is the support the opposition party is receiving from Singh’s critics in Congress.
Political analysts say the whole episode must be seen in the context of the 2022 Assembly elections, noting there could be a message to Gandhis’ silence.
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Rahul vs. Amarinder
OAugust 3, Bajwa and Dullo met Governor VP Singh badnore for seek CBI and ED investigations into the “existence of the alcohol mafia” in the state. In their letter to the Governorthey or they pointed out that two illegal distilleries had been discovered in Rajpura and Ghanaour, both in Patiala, the home district of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his wife’s parliamentary constituency.
“The operation of the illegal distilleries in the Chief Minister’s home district speaks volumes about the anarchy and administrative failure of the government,” the two wrote.
A day before that, Ravneet Singh Bittu pointed out in a tweet that “this link is not limited to a handful of officers”. “The real roots (sic) of this problem are some politicians involved in this illegal activity,” he wrote.
— Ravneet Singh Bittu (@RavneetBittu) August 2, 2020
Congressman Amarinder Singh Raja Warring demanded stricter action against errant officials.
Although the Punjab party leader Sunil Jakhar came to the defense of the state Congress government, Rahul Gandhi refrained from ordering his Punjab lieutenants not to attack the CM, which remains the party’s best bet for the 2022 Assembly elections .
It is an open secret in congressional circles that there is no love lost between Gandhi and Amarinder. The high command has reservations about the CM’s independent style of operation.
According to sources, when a Congress leader once suggested to Amarinder that he should start addressing the former party chairman as “Rahuli”, Amarinder joked, “But, why? I was senior to his father (late Rajiv Gandhi) at Doon School. In fact, he should call me ‘uncle’.
After congressional leaders began attacking their own government, the head of the state unit says he will write to interim president Sonia Gandhi to act against the “brazen indiscipline” of Bajwa and Dullo.
“It’s time to stem the rot and save Congress from the petty machinations of Bajwa and Dullo who had no shame in biting the hand that feeds them,” Jakhar said at a press conference last weekadd that the attack by the two MPs was a ‘cut and paste’ of what happened in Rajasthan in January following the death of 107 infants in a hospital in Kota.
At the time, Sachin Pilot, then Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, had skinned his own government for not showing enough compassion in response to the tragedy. “If action had been taken against Pilot then himself, what is happening today in Rajasthan could have been avoided,” he said, referring to Pilot’s rebellion last month which has now been buried.
In response, Bajwa lashed out at Jakhar on Twitter.
“This is my official comment on the press conference held earlier today by PPCC Chairman, Sh. Sunil Jakhar. I fundamentally disagree with the conviction to ignore or cover up the deaths of 117 innocent individuals on party discipline. 1/n” https://t.co/piAaDoZldf
— Partap Singh Bajwa (@Partap_Sbajwa) August 4, 2020
“Sh Dullo and I had no personal agenda, but if we had not had the courage to raise this issue, we would have failed in our duty as representatives of the people of Punjab in the Indian Parliament. I had not traded my conscience for a seat in a former maharaja’s durbar,” Bajwa wrote.
“I thought Captain Amarinder Singh alone was enough to harm the interests of Punjab; Sadly, now he has also received much needed help and support from Sh Jakhar.
Some ministers pleaded on Thursday August 6 for the “dismissal… without laxity or delay” of deputies. “Indiscipline cannot be tolerated at any time, let alone when assembly elections in the state are less than two years away,” they said in a joint press release.
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The cracks exposed by the hooch tragedy now appear to be expanding on other fronts.
On Saturday, the government withdrew the security blanket provided to Bajwa by the state police. Bajwa had the cover because his family was blacklisted from Sikh militants.
The government said “an assessment has shown” that Bajwa has “virtually no perception of threat” and that in any event he enjoys the central security of the union’s interior ministry.
Bajwa described the move as an act of vendetta. “I had spoken openly against the failure of the state administration and the poor functioning of the chief minister,” he said on Twitter on August 8. “Clearly Captain Amarinder Singh, in his usual fashion, had to resort to blows below the belt by removing my security and putting my entire family at risk.”
My response on the withdrawal of security by the government of Punjab. pic.twitter.com/sKYNZb6xuZ
— Partap Singh Bajwa (@Partap_Sbajwa) August 8, 2020
In a letter to the Director General of Punjab Police (DGP) on Tuesday, Bajwa described the decision as “the complete abdication of professional integrity and impartiality in the performance of your duties”.
— Partap Singh Bajwa (@Partap_Sbajwa) August 11, 2020
Amarinder had defended the decision in a government statement on Monday, saying it was inexplicable why Bajwa was trying to link the review to his confrontation with the state government. Bajwa, he added, had himself “chosen to initiate” the confrontation “without any basis”.
Friends turned enemies
Bajwa and Amarinder had collapsed in 2012 after Congress lost Assembly elections for the second time in a row, and the former blamed the captain for the party’s debacle. In 2013, Amarinder was replaced by Bajwa as the leader of the Punjab Congress, a move that reportedly upset him deeply.
A nasty fight for the party leadership in the state continued for two years and Amarinder was finally named leader in 2015. It is believed that Bajwa was given the seat of Rajya Sabha instead. For the RS’s second seat in the election that year, Amarinder ran for singer-turned-politician Hans Raj Hans but Dullo protested. Bajwa’s closeness to the party high command helped Dullo preside over Amarinder’s choice of seat.
Amarinder then led the party in the 2017 assembly elections, which Congress won. Since then, Bajwa has continued to publicly criticize the chief minister.
In September last year, Bajwa accused Amarinder of “deceiving” people into believing action would be taken in the 2015 sacrilege cases.
Speaking to ThePrint, political scientist Dr Kanwalpreet Kaur of DAV College, Chandigarh said she sees “the spat as the start of a change that will be more visible in the days to come”.
“Firstly, there are two years left until the elections in Punjab and Bajwa is looking to play a bigger role in state politics. Secondly, by supporting Bajwa, the high command could also think of sending a strong signal to Captain Amarinder and to Sunil Jakhar that they need to roll up their socks,” she added.
“Third, such episodes bring out latent or latent discontent and potential weak links in the chain. From the point of view of the high command of the party, it is a good thing if he wants to strengthen the party before the elections.
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