Bickering back in Punjab Cong ahead of 2024 General Election

After hurting the party badly in 2022 assembly polls, the spectre of factionalism has come back to haunt the Punjab Congress with several party leaders, including former legislators, raising a banner of revolt against former state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. A report by Rajesh Moudgil

The timing of the bitter bickering within could not have been worse for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-ruled Punjab’s principal opposition party Congress, with the 2024 parliamentary polls being just a few months away.

The latest example of the infighting has come to fore a few days ago when several Congress leaders including former legislators, namely Kulbir Singh Zira, Davinder Ghubaya, Lakhvir Singh Lakha, Inderbir Bolaria and Amit Vig and the sitting MLA Barindermeet Singh Pahra, Punjab Youth Congress chief Mohit Mohindra and others, including Khashbaz Jattana and Navjot Dahiya, came out in open demanding expulsion of former state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

They demanded in a joint statement that it was time that the Congress high command showed the door to former state president – Sidhu. Stating that though they respected him (Sidhu), his action often worked against the interests of the party.

In their statement they went on to add that till date Sidhu had only focussed on self-glorification and had never supported the party’s agenda. This was something which needs to stop, the leaders added.

The said development was triggered after Sidhu took on former chief ministers Charanjit Singh Channi and Capt Amarinder Singh during his recent rally in Bathinda in which he held Channi responsible for the Congress’ drubbing in 2022 assembly polls.

Irked over it, the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Partap Singh Bajwa asked Sidhu to refrain from holding his “parallel shows’’ and join his colleagues at the party programmes. Requesting Sidhu to act with some maturity, Bajwa went on to point out that the Congress had come down from 78 seats to 18 seats in the said polls during Sidhu’s stint as the state party chief.

Bajwa also questioned Sidhu’s stance in which Sidhu had espoused for trucks with all opposition parties under the INDIA bloc. Bajwa objected to it as the state Congress was the principal opposition party in the Aam Aadmi Party-ruled Punjab.

The state party chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, who avoided to comment on the demand of party leaders for Sidhu’s removal from the party, however, said that he would also request Sidhu to come on the party platform to raise issues in the interest of the state.

Sidhu hits back

Sidhu on the other hand, chose to post on X a joint statement released by several former MLAs, namely, Nazar Singh Manshaiah, Kaka Rajinder Singh, Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Vijay Kalra, Maheshinder Singh and Raminder Awla, who tore into LoP Bajwa ruing that neither them nor Sidhu were welcome at the state party programmes.

They wrote: “Respected Bajwa Saab Ji, we Congress office bearers and workers want to ask that neither we nor Navjot Sidhu are invited to Punjab Congress functions. And if we hold a rally on the invitation of party workers for the betterment of Congress with 8,000 persons in attendance, why are we being called bad instead of encouraging us? We, office bearers and workers, are busy day and night for the upliftment of the Congress party. But why are we being discriminated against in the party due to our closeness to Navjot Sidhu”.

“For the last one month, you as the opposition did not hold any big event, while we put the questions of the people …… before the government by holding an open rally’’, they added.

Sidhu’s former advisor Malwinder Malli also blasted Bajwa and others and blamed them for the rout of the party in the last state polls. He said in the post that he (Bajwa) was responsible for the party’s fall to 18 seats from 78 after Channi was announced as the chief ministerial candidate for the 2022 polls by playing the dalit card dismissing Sidhu’s agenda.

Rumblings over tie-up with AAP

Pertinently, the bickering in the party comes at a time when the Congress-backed INDIA bloc was in the final rounds of dialogue on seat sharing for the upcoming 2024 polls to fight BJP-led NDA, while Congress in Punjab seemed to be plagued with internal bickering.

Talks are already rife that several of the senior Congress leaders in Punjab are already rolling up their sleeves against the said grand alliance. Obviously, they included who had either been arrested or booked by the Punjab state vigilance bureau.

In case of dissent on the issue, a vertical split in the state unit of Congress is imminent – causing an adverse impact in the upcoming polls. While the party chief Warring has held that high command was supreme in the context and he would abide by its decision on the alliance, Bajwa has been vocal about his opposition against the alliance. Several other senior leaders have also pointedly opposed it with a few even terming ruling chief minister Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to be a B-team of BJP.

Kharge seeks details

However, it is in the wake of the ongoing tiff that the AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge is reported to have sought details of all the remarks of Sidhu, Bajwa and all the others in the context.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, Warring is also said to have written to Punjab party affairs incharge about Sidhu’s stance even as he has also been flagging – without naming Sidhu – the need for discipline in the party and saying that it was not right to speak against party leaders in public. Also, according to information, Warring had also written to party leadership last year seeking that a show-cause notice be issued to Sidhu for his alleged anti-party activities.

The leaders backing Sidhu, on the other hand, are also said to have brought the matter about the rival camp to the notice of party high command.

However, the bottom-line seems to be that the bickering which caused irreparable damage to Congress in 2022 assembly polls, is back in the state Congress ahead of May 2024 general elections. What would be its impact or the extent of damage, only time will tell.