Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has defended his government's decision to withdraw police security for Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa. Calling it a "routine exercise" that followed a periodic threat assement review, the Chief Minister said it had nothing to do with the ongoing face-off between Mr Bajwa and his party.
Amarinder Singh pointed out that Mr Bajwa now had, in fact, a bigger security team than he had earlier, because his status as a Rajya Sabha MP meant he had been given Z-category security by the centre.
"It was a routine exercise based on periodic review of his threat assessment, as provided in the 2013 State Security Policy, after he was given Z-category security by the centre in March this year," Amarinder Singh said.
The Chief Minister said 25 personnel, in addition to an escort vehicle and two drivers, had been assigned to Mr Bajwa by the Union Home Ministry. Whereas, under state cover, he had a 14-member team in addition to an escort vehicle and driver.
He also said that while his government would never deny security cover where it was genuinely needed, it could not afford to spare personnel at a time of severe constraints due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Saturday, after the cover was removed, Partap Singh Bajwa accused Chief Minister Singh of "hitting below the belt" and placing his whole family at risk because of the "improper functioning" of the government.
In a back-and-forth that highlighted the cracks in the ruling Congress, the Chief Minister hit back, saying attempts to link a periodic review to his issues with the government were "inexplicable".
Mr Bajwa's complaint in this matter was "petty and frivolous", the Chief Minister declared.
The withdrawal of police cover came days after Mr Bajwa and another Congress Rajya Sabha MP, Shamsher Singh Dullo, sought a CBI probe into last week's hooch tragedy - which has left over 120 people dead - and the illegal liquor trade in the state.
The two parliamentarians wrote to Governor VP Singh Badnore alleging a failure of the state's "administrative machinery" and accusing their own government of being hand-in-glove with the state's liquor mafia.
Mr Bajwa has been at odds with Amarinder Singh since he replaced the former as the chief of the party's state unit. The other signatory of the letter, Shamsher Singh Dullo, is also a former president of the state unit.
Infighting in Punjab, one of the few states where the Congress is still in power, is something the party cannot afford, even if events today indicated a possible rapprochement to the crisis that has surrounded its government in Rajasthan.
With input from PTI