Rivalry within the Punjab unit of the Congress Party, between the factions of Captain Amarinder Singh (pictured) and Pratap Singh Bajwa, has turned bitter since November. (Press Trust of India)
Former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh today met the Congress president Sonia Gandhi amid speculation that he may be replaced as Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Capt Amarinder Singh didn't attend the previous Winter Session of Parliament. "My mother was sick and I told this to the Congress President, who suggested that I be with her," replied Capt Amarinder Singh when asked about his absence.
"We need a strong leadership to win the elections in Punjab, and I dont think (Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Pratap Singh) Bajwa can win the state for us," said Capt Amarinder, on being questioned about his demand for a change of leadership in the party's state unit. On speculation of his leaving the Congress Party, he said, "I have been Chief Minister and twice state unit president. Where else I can go."
Reacting to the statement by Capt Amrinder Singh, Bajwa said, "It was an internal meeting of Capt Amarinder Singh with Soniaji, and he should not have crossed the laxman rekha by speaking to the media."
"I never spoke against him when he lost successive elections, so he should adhere to party discipline and help me in our fight against the Akali-BJP government," Bajwa added.
Capt Amarinder Singh has summoned a meeting of his supporters and MLAs on Saturday in Patiala, to mount pressure on the party high command for a change in leadership in the state. He had held a similar meeting on December 19, when the former royal hosted a lunch for over 30 of his supporters from the state, including several top sitting MLAs, who rallied behind him and sought a similar change.
However, his efforts have not borne fruit so far. Party sources say both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are reluctant to give Capt Amarinder Singh a third chance at power, given the fact that Congress has lost on two previous occasions under his leadership.
But his demand got immediate support from senior party leader Manish Tewari, who represented Ludhiana in the previous Lok Sabha. "Change is the prerogative of the party president. But Capt Amarinder Singh is the tallest leader we have in Punjab," said Tewari.
Rivalry between the Amrinder Singh and Bajwa camps has turned bitter since November, with the removal of the party's Ludhiana (Urban) unit president, Pawan Dewan, by Bajwa. Dewan is reportedly close to the former Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh.