The Congress, which is treading cautiously in its attempt to resolve differences between chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and dissenters in Punjab, has itself to blame for the present crisis in the state unit.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is now leaning on the three-member Kharge panel’s assessment and suggestions to end their squabbling, had set up two separate committees under former Union minister P Chidambaram and then All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of party affairs in Punjab Asha Kumari in January 2020, for the implementation of promises made in the election manifesto and improve coordination between the party and the state government.
But both these committee did not hold even one meeting in the past 17 months even though murmurs of discontent in a section of the party kept getting louder in the state. At the centre of the ongoing standoff between Amarinder and the dissenting group are a few key unkept election promises, including action in sacrilege and police firing cases, and annulment of power purchase agreements (PPAs), and the chief minister’s lack of accessibility and over-reliance on bureaucrats that had several ministers and legislators openly gripe at party forums and outside from time to time.
The committee, which had Chidambaram as chairman and Amarinder, Asha Kumari, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar and Haryana Congress president Kumari Selja as members, was set up for “proper implementation” of the party manifesto for the 2017 assembly elections.
The 11-member coordination group comprising Asha Kumari, Amarinder, Jakhar, Rajya MP Ambika Soni and cabinet ministers Charanjit Singh Channi, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Vijay inder Singla and Sunder Sham Arora among others, was also constituted following the dissolution of the pradesh and district Congress committees.
These decisions were taken when discontent was already brewing in the party over the government’s handling of the Bargari sacrilege cases and the dominance of bureaucracy in the government.
Rajya Sabha member Partap Singh Bajwa was also breathing fire against Amarinder’s style of functioning and the advocate general and the latter met the party MLAs in groups to hear their grievances. “The discontent was building up and the signs were all there but nothing was done by these committees,” a senior Congress lawmaker said.
When contacted, Jakhar, whose name figured in both the central committees as member, said he does not recall having received any message or letter regarding any meeting of the two committees. “The state affairs in-charge was the one authorised to convene meetings. I am not sure, but Covid-19 restrictions could probably be the reason for not holding any meeting,” he said.
Harish Rawat, who replaced Asha Kumari as the state affairs in-charge in September 2020, did not respond to calls.
The Kharge committee, which includes Rawat and former Delhi MP Jai Prakash Agarwal as members and had one-to-one meetings with 150 party leaders from Punjab in past two weeks, has, in its report to the Congress president, suggested keeping Amarinder in command, accommodating former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, revamping of the organisational set-up without further delay and giving due representation to all social groups, particularly Dalits, to strengthen the party ahead of next year’s state polls.