For the Congress, the monsoon session of Parliament that just got washed out was a prestigious one. The Congress strategy to assert itself was seen by political observers as a critical part of the plan to project its vice president Rahul Gandhi as a more aggressive leader. The party ensured that no legislative work was done and firmly stood by its demand for the resignation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The party had evidently briefed its MPs well on how to ensure the proceedings of Parliament were to be stalled. Given their numbers, it must have also been told to them to ensure their presence during the days that Parliament was in session.
Yet there was a notable absentee from the session. The party's deputy leader in Lok Sabha and former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
When asked by media on his absence from Parliament, Singh, who has started a mass contact programme even though the Punjab Assembly elections are still a year-and-a-half away, said he thought it more important to be with the masses. Even during the previous sessions of the Lok Sabha, he had not been an active participant in the House.
Singh has been having a feud with the Punjab Pradesh Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa. He had strongly opposed Bajwa's nomination to the post and has been looking for all opportunities to either run him down or demand his removal from the post. Singh had led the party MLAs - and to his credit he has the open support of at least 35 of the 44 party MLAs - to the party high command to press for Bajwa's removal. He has been organising political rallies on his own without inviting the state party president. He has also been making it a point to not attend any political function or meeting called by Bajwa.
It is well known that Bajwa was an appointee of Rahul Gandhi while Singh is considered to be in the good books of Sonia Gandhi mainly because her husband Rajiv Gandhi and he were Doon Schoool mates. In fact, after their marriage, their first visit was to Singh's mansion in Patiala. There have been several reports about a possible change in the state leadership, but each time the move was scuttled at the last moment. The reason given by Congress insiders is that buckling to Singh's demand would open the floodgates for similar demands from other states.
However, the former Punjab chief minister has been unrelenting in his pursuit and had been repeatedly defying the party diktat.
Even as he absented himself from the critical monsoon session of Parliament, he made it public that he was upset with the delay in the passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill.
In a statement to the media, he "expressed displeasure" over the delay in the introduction and passage of the Bill, saying, as a result, Punjab will be the worst sufferer. “Whatever the reasons and the circumstances have been, during the monsoon session, the GST (Bill) should have been allowed to be introduced in the Parliament to facilitate the way for its eventual passage”, Singh observed, "while emphasising and underlining its importance for the overall economic growth of the country".
He said, it is very crucial, particularly for a state like Punjab which is reeling under a debt of over Rs 1.25 lakh crore and is not able to meet its revenue expenditure and its statutory obligations. The former Punjab chief minister said the state would suffer the most over the delay in the passage of the GST Bill as the state was passing through a critical economic phase where it did not have enough money even to pay the monthly salaries and service the debts it owed.
He went on to add that the “introduction of the GST (Bill), which is originally the brainchild of the Congress, could have proved mutually beneficial for both the industry as well as the state, as on the one hand, it would have streamlined and uniformed the tax regime and, on the other hand, would have generated additional revenue and resources for the state”, while regretting that the state will now have to wait for an uncertain period of time.
However, three days later, he issued another statement to "dismiss the assumption" that he had any differences with the party high command on the issue of the passage of the GST Bill in Parliament.
"At times, different issues crop up at the state and central levels at the same time and our response and stand depends on our respective priorities", Singh remarked while emphasising that the GST Bill was important for debt-ridden Punjab as it would have helped to generate extra revenue.
He also "clarified" that the Congress had "valid reasons to stall the proceedings in Parliament over the issue of removal of tainted leaders of the BJP" and added that "my saying something while keeping in view the interests of Punjab does not mean that I have differences with my high command".
His absence from Parliament also comes in the wake of reports that he was either getting close to the BJP or he might float his own party if Bajwa was not removed from his post and if he was not projected as the next chief minister if the Congress wrested back power. A couple of party MLAs had come out openly in favour of Singh forming a regional party. These legislators have been issued notices by the party high command.
While Singh has denied that he has met the BJP national president Amit Shah, he has been claiming that several Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders had expressed their desire to join hands with him. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal have pooh-poohed his claim, but there is no denying the fact that he remains one of the most charismatic political leader in the state and has the ability to significantly impact the outcome of the next Assembly elections.