Last week almost all newspapers carried the story that the Congress high command had finally accepted the long pending demand of the former Punjab chief minister and deputy leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh, for a change in the leadership of the Punjab unit of the party. The reports also mentioned, and were not denied by the party spokesman, that the change would be affected shortly after the Kisan rally to be organised by the Congress on Sunday in New Delhi.
Captain Amarinder Singh himself did not attend the rally though he was very much in Delhi on the plea that he was busy launching his latest book on the 1965 war. The rally was addressed by party chief Sonia Gandhi as well as the vice president Rahul Gandhi.
The much anticipated announcement, however, did not come even after the rally and apparently the former chief minister finally lost his cool. In an interview to an English daily, he did not hide his disappointment with the party and virtually blasted Rahul saying he needed a reality check. What's more significant is that, for the first time, he did not rule out the option of moving out of the Congress and floating his own outfit. His supporters had been throwing hints in the recent past but this time Amarinder has himself declared that he may have to look for options outside the party.
It's been nearly three years that the former chief minister had been asking for the removal of Partap Singh Bajwa as the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. He had not been attending the meetings and rallies convened by Bajwa and had been openly describing him as a "failure". Instead, he had been holding parallel meetings and hosting dinner meetings with party MLAs. He was evidently emboldened to do this because of the support of almost 25 of the 43 party MLAs in Punjab. Besides the MLAs a large number of state and district level leaders of the party had rallied behind him while Bajwa's rallies had been receiving poor response.
Another major factor which had prompted Amarinder to take on an aggressive stance was the fact that his political rallies were drawing huge crowds and he was even getting feelers from some disgruntled leaders from other parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party.
But what might have been the last straw is that though the party high command had agreed to replace Bajwa, Rahul Gandhi was not accepting his demand that he be replaced by the Punjab CLP leader Sunil Jakhar. The latest indications were that Rahul was rooting for former Union minister Ambika Soni. It was not acceptable to Amarinder as she could have emerged as a power centre and could have staked claim to the post of chief minister if Congress was able to win power in the elections merely a year and a half away.
Capt Amarinder's diatribe has come handy for Bajwa who had been looking forward to squaring up with the former chief minister. Bajwa came out with a scathing statement that Amarinder had already decided to leave the party and had even decided the name of the new party as well as the date on which it would be launched. He even said that Amarinder was looking forward to an alliance with the BJP and should be thrown out of the party without any further delay.
The former chief minister has not yet reacted to the criticism of his statement. He is also slated to go abroad to attend a private function but the latest washing of dirty linen in public may have created a gulf which would be difficult to bridge even though last minute efforts are being made to placate Amarinder. The party is well aware that Amarinder stands a head and shoulder among all other party leaders in the state and he alone has the charishma to lead to the party to victory in the ensuing elections.