The unceremonious exit of the then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh from the party ahead of February assembly polls was just the beginning. A numbing jolt came a few days ago when five of the party’s senior leaders quit the party and joined BJP. A report by Rajesh Moudgil
It was in September last year when the then Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder was forced to first vacate his seat and soon after quit the party due to the rumblings against him from several of his detractors within his government and the party.
This was just the beginning. The prevailing bad blood in the party had the worst coming before and after the state assembly elections which were then just five months away.
Capt Amarinder Singh minced no words in his resignation letter sent to the party president Sonia Gandhi that he was deeply hurt by her and her children’s conduct over the past few months.
Referring to his arch-rival Navjot Singh Sidhu, he said it was unfortunate rather than being reined in, he was patronised by Rahul and Priyanka. He added that while he was aided and abetted by the general secretary in-charge Harish Rawat, who was perhaps the most dubious individual he (Capt Amarinder Singh) had the occasion to make the acquaintance of.
Infighting led to party’s rout in polls
Courtesy infighting in the party, Congress which had come to power with a thumping majority of 77 seats out of the total 117 seats in the 2017, was reduced to humiliating 18 seats in the state this time while the then Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made a landslide win with 92 seats.
Congress alone was to blame for its debacle.
Subsequent to the unceremonious exit of the then CM Capt Amarinder Singh, Congress, nonetheless, made a tactical shift in its original strategy of going into the polls under a collective leadership, by declaring incumbent chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit, as its CM candidate.
Though the decision was taken by the Congress with an eye on the 32% Dalit votes in the state, the highest in the country, but the move ended up sparking fresh bickerings in the party.
Its top leaders including state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu, election campaign committee chairman Sunil Jakhar, and deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, were among the front-runners to replace Capt Amarinder Singh, were nowhere to be seen during the election campaign of the Congress candidates or even CM face Channi’s campaign.
There were many others who rebelled and fought against Congress candidates finally contributing to the AAP candidates’ win.
Patiala MP Preneet Kaur who obviously campaigned for her husband Capt Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and Khadoor Sahib MP Jasbir Singh Dimpa, whose brother Harpinder Singh Gill recently had switched loyalties to the SAD, were vocal against Punjab affairs in-charge for creating what he termed as the mess in the state party. The party’s Rajya Sabha member and SC leader Shamsher Dullo, too, hit out at the Central leadership and Channi, looking askance at the ticket distribution.
Interestingly enough, among the other party rebels was Channi’s brother Dr Manohar Singh, who fought from Bassi Pathana constituency (district Fatehgarh Sahib) against Congress’ sitting MLA Gurpreet Singh and lost. The Congress’ four-time MLA Amrik Singh Dhillon fought as an independent from his Samrala (district Ludhiana) seat after the party decided to replace him with Rupinder Singh Raja Gill.
In Talwandi Sabo constituency, the three-time former MLA Harminder Singh Jassi, a relative of jailed Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, contested against party candidate Khushbaz Singh Jattana, while the sitting MLA at Nawanshahr seat Angad Singh contested as independent after being replaced with Satvir Singh Palli Jhikki.
Also, in one of the most notable contests, the Cabinet minister Rana Gurjeet’s son Rana Inder Partap Singh, fought from Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district as an independent against the party candidate Navtej Singh Cheema and won. Besides, former state Congress president Mohinder Singh Kaypee and former minister Jagmohan Singh Kang were also said to be anguished with the party’s selection for candidates in their respective seats and reportedly worked against the party candidates.
Jakhar leaves the party
The poll results were out on March 10. About two months later, the party suffered a major blow on May 14, when the party’s senior leader and former party state president Sunil Jakhar snapped his association with the party.
Sunil, 68, a three-time former legislator and MP, is the son of veteran parliamentarian Balram Jakhar while his elder brother Sajjan Kumar Jakhar was also a Punjab minister. Besides being the party state president in 2017, Sunil was one of the tallest Hindu leaders of the party in Punjab. However, his nephew Sandeep Jakhar is currently Congress MLA from the Abohar assembly seat.
Jakhar had frozen ties with the Congress for about two months after he was removed from all party posts for his alleged anti-party activities about a month ago by the party’s Central leadership.
The action against Sunil Jakhar was taken for his comments against former chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Ambika Soni.
A few days later, he joined BJP.
Latest, severest blow
A numbing blow, however, came to the Congress in Punjab on June 4 when its four former ministers, besides several other leaders, joined BJP.
The four former ministers are Balbir Sidhu, Gurpreet Kangar, Shyam Sunder Arora and Raj Kumar Verka. Another senior leader and the former senior Barnala legislator who joined the saffron party was Kewal Singh Dhillon.
Verka was one of the tall Dalit leaders of Congress and also a former vice-chairperson of the national commission for scheduled castes, Sundar Sham Arora was working president of state Congress, and Balbir Singh Sidhu and Gurpreet Singh Kangar were tall Jat Sikh leaders of the Punjab Congress.
With their induction, the BJP eyes to enhance its presence in the state, especially in the Malwa region, the stronghold of the ruling AAP, as Kangar is a former MLA from Rampura Phul, district Bathinda, and Sidhu, former MLA from Mohali.
Likewise, Arora is a former MLA from Hoshiarpur (Doaba region), Verka is a former MLA from Amritsar (west) which falls in the Majha region. While Verka was a Dalit face of the Congress, Singla and Arora were Hindu faces of Congress in the Sikh majority state.
Interestingly enough, several others who joined the BJP included former Congress MLA Amrik Dhilon, former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Sarup Chand Singla, and expelled SAD leader Mohinder Kaur Josh. Sitting Mohali mayor Amarjit Singh Sidhu, who is the brother of former minister Balbir Sidhu, along with about 35 councillors also joined BJP.