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After breaking bread, Punjab Congress leaders trade barbs
Friday November 1, 2013 5:47 PM, Jaideep Sarin, IANS

The infighting among top leaders of the Punjab Congress is old hat. The new element is that the warring leaders have made a public spectacle of this - that too in front of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. To add to this, they are back to their wily ways even after recently having lunched together at the invitation of the Congress leadership in New Delhi.

Having been at the losing end in all forms of elections - assembly, municipal, panchayat or by-elections - the Congress party seems to be heading nowhere in Punjab.

With some of the stalwarts pulling their respective factions in different directions, the confusion is not only among the party leaders but also in the rank and file. The latter are unable to comprehend whom to follow as looking to one leader will leave the others upset.

The Congress high command tried to intervene by appointing Gurdaspur MP Pratap Singh Bajwa as the state party chief in March, replacing former chief minister Amarinder Singh. Though Bajwa has activated the party by his visits across the state, something sorely missing in Amarinder's regime, he has not been able to rope in the party's top brass into his efforts.

The present power centres in the Punjab Congress include the factions led by Bajwa, Amarinder Singh, former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Congress legislator Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar and also a group of young legislators. Other powerful Congress leaders from Punjab include union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur and former minister Ambika Soni.

Bajwa and Amarinder Singh openly traded barbs during a public rally in Sangrur recently in the presence of Rahul Gandhi. Then, Amarinder Singh and Bhattal hardly see eye to eye on the political front.

The suave and soft-spoken Sunil Jakhar, son of former Lok Sabha speaker Balram Jakhar, who remains away from political controversies, too does not have the best of understanding with Bajwa.

Jakhar had recently accompanied Punjab Chief Minister and Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal to the Planning Commission to seek a package for the water-logged areas of southwest Punjab. This kind of Akali Dal-Congress bonhomie was seen after many years. However, this did not go down well with the Punjab Congress leadership, especially the Bajwa camp.

The trouble with Punjab Congress leaders is that they are not willing to learn from their mistakes of recent years. They went out of power in 2007 and will have to wait till 2017 for another shot at regaining power. Their infighting is not only helping the ruling Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine but also adding to its strength.

If the infighting continues, they will make Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal's claim of ruling Punjab for 25 years come true.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)



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