Chandigarh: The Punjab Assembly polls are round the corner, but the state Congress — which is set to start shortlisting and screening candidates soon — continues to be plagued by infighting and protests.
While Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu seem to have developed an uneasy camaraderie after months of differences, the spotlight has shifted to squabbles among other leaders.
The latest row was witnessed during a cabinet meeting held at Punjab Bhawan Thursday, when Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa took on cabinet minister Rana Gurjeet Singh.
Randhawa rebuked Rana Gurjeet for levelling allegations against him, claiming that senior police officers were being transferred in exchange for bribes.
Rana Gurjeet too lashed out at the deputy CM, who also holds the Home portfolio, alleging that he had not fulfilled any of his promises, including justice in the sacrilege cases and the opening of the Special Task Force (STF) report on the multi-crore drugs smuggling case.
Gurjeet reportedly also held Randhawa responsible for not taking action against Congress MLA from Sultanpur Lodhi, Navtej Singh Cheema, who had recently scuttled Gurjeet’s plans to hold a public function in his constituency.
The opposition made the most of the cabinet showdown. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP and party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted Saturday that “after coming to power”, his government will probe Rana Gurjeet’s claims.
Drama in Doaba
Cheema and Rana Gurjeet, who is the MLA from Kapurthala, have had a long-standing feud which escalated last week. Gurjeet is eyeing a ticket for his son Rana Inder Partap Singh from Sultanpur Lodhi, but the incumbent Cheema is expected to contest again next year. Both Navjot Sidhu and Randhawa are supporting Cheema but, undeterred, Inder Pratap Singh opened his election campaign office at Sultanpur Lodhi Sunday.
Gurjeet also faces opposition from at least half a dozen Congress leaders from the Doaba region, which comprises the Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar districts.
In September, six leaders had written to Sidhu, opposing Gurjeet’s induction as a minister in Channi’s cabinet. Among those who signed the letter were Cheema and Bholath MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira. A former Congressman, Khaira, who joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, rejoined Congress in June this year.
His re-entry was opposed by Gurjeet’s aide Amandeep Singh Gora Gill.
Daggers drawn in Majha
Congress infighting is not just limited to Doaba. The party’s senior leaders in the Majha region also have the proverbial daggers drawn.
The Majha region comprises Amritsar, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran districts.
Partap Singh Bajwa, a Rajya Sabha MP, and his brother Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, who is the MLA from Gurdaspur district’s Qadian, have become openly hostile towards one another.
Partap, who was recently made chairman of the polls manifesto committee by the party high command, started campaigning at Qadian, giving clear signals that he was hopeful of a ticket from his brother’s constituency.
“Campaigning continues in Qadian for Mission 2022,” Partap Bajwa tweeted Wednesday.
An upset Fateh Jang, who is supported by Sidhu, said he was the party’s candidate from Qadian. “I am the sitting MLA. I am the party candidate. The state president of the party Navjot Sidhu addressed a rally I organised on the 2nd (December). At the rally, Sidhu blessed me and gave a signal (of candidature). Partap Singh Bajwa is a senior leader and has a presence across Punjab. He can go anywhere and contest,” he had told mediapersons at Qadian Tuesday.
Fateh Jang had also hit out at Sukhjinder Randhawa for appointing his son-in-law to the advocate general’s office.
“When my son Arjun Pratap Singh Bajwa was appointed as DSP by Captain Amarinder Singh, Randhawa opposed it tooth and nail saying that if sons of MLAs are given jobs in the government, we will be left red-faced before the public. My son gave up that post. Now Sukhjinder Randhawa is the home minister and has misused his position and appointed his son-in-law (Tarunveer Singh Lehal) as additional advocate general. Why not make him the advocate general straight away? Will tongues not wag now?” Fateh Jang had told mediapersons last month.
Earlier, Fateh Jang had taken on another Congress leader, Balwinder Singh Kotlabama, for the latter’s appointment as chairman of Punjab Genco Ltd, a public sector unit. Balwinder Singh is considered close to cabinet minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, MLA from Fatehgarh Churian.
Fateh Jang had targeted Balwinder Singh for being the brother of Avtar Singh Pannu, a prominent leader of self-avowed, pro-Khalistan US-based group ‘Sikhs for Justice’ that was declared an unlawful association by the government of India. Balwinder Singh had claimed that he had nothing to do with his brother anymore and had not met him for years.
Tript Bajwa however, supported Balwinder Singh’s appointment, calling him a ‘party loyalist’.
Balwinder Singh’s appointment was also opposed by Ashwani Sekhri, a former MLA from Batala and Tript Bajwa’s bête noire. Last month, he alleged that Tript Bajwa was hand-in-glove with the Akali Dal. “There are at least 10 constituencies in Punjab where Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa is weakening Congress candidates and helping the Akali candidate come up,” Sekhri had claimed to mediapersons on 12 November in Chandigarh.
Balwinder Singh was removed as chairman on 2 December after the opposition targeted the Punjab government over the issue.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)