In an unusual move that signals its growing displeasure over the rift within its Punjab unit, the Congress high command Wednesday came out in public to say that it has directed Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to work on implementing the party’s 18 key poll manifesto promises within a timeframe.
Simultaneously, the party’s three-member committee on Punjab, led by Mallikarjun Kharge, said it would call Singh’s emerging rival Navjot Singh Sidhu to Delhi for discussions. Besides, the Chief Minister, who was in Delhi for a two-day visit, returned to Punjab without meeting either Congress president Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi.
The high command, however, also signalled that it was not happy with the recent outbursts of Sidhu, an issue which the Chief Minister had flagged with the committee. Singh is learnt to have told the committee that it will have to rein in Sidhu as his statements could affect the party with less than a year left for state elections.
A day after the Kharge panel held detailed discussions with the Chief Minister, the high command made it known that it has set deadlines for him to fulfil the promises of 2017.
The promises include taking action in the Bargari sacrilege case; cracking down on drug rackets, and sand and transport mafia; providing 200 units of free power to urban households; scrapping of “faulty” power purchase agreements; scholarships for Scheduled Caste children; and, waiver of loans for Dalits.
“There are 18 issues on which the AICC, the party, has told the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister will hold a press conference and make these public,” Harish Rawat, AICC general secretary in charge of Punjab, said.
Party sources said the Kharge panel’s discussions with the Chief Minister were centred on the progress of implementation of the promises. Sources said Singh has already asked his team in Punjab to start working on the 18-point programme.
On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi met Rawat, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, MP Manish Tewari, Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal and party MLA Inderbir Bolaria. Over the last three days, Gandhi is learnt to have met about 20 leaders from Punjab.
Following his meeting, Jakhar said the high command was taking the crisis “seriously” and soon, the “entire party will fight unitedly” and the “crisis will be over”.
A party leader, who had met Gandhi in the last 48 hours, said he appeared to have made up his mind. “He just heard me. It seems he has made up his mind on what needs to be done,” the leader said.
A senior leader said Sonia Gandhi and Rahul could have met the Punjab Chief Minister. “Whether he sought an appointment or not is immaterial. The CM was in Delhi for two days, they could have met him,” the leader said.
Rawat said the Congress president is expected to take key decisions related to Punjab in the first or second week of July. However, opinion in the Punjab Congress appeared divided after the latest developments.
“These are like tasks given to a school kid. I don’t know what the high command is trying to do. They are humiliating the Chief Minister, and unnecessarily complicating matters,” a leader close to Singh said.
However, one of the Chief Minister’s critics said the high command had asserted itself for the first time. “He has been cut to size. His desperation, too, is evident. He has appeared before the panel twice, going to the Parliament office of Kharge yesterday. Has any Chief Minister ever been summoned like this? Look at his decision to give government jobs to the sons of two MLAs…all of these show that he is feeling the heat,” the leader said.
In Punjab, one of the two MLAs, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, said he had written to the Home Department to convey the inability of his son to take up the government job. Besides Fateh’s son, the state government had decided to give a job to MLA Rakesh Pandey’s son as Naib Tehsildar.
On Wednesday, referring to this issue, Jakhar blamed “a few advisors” of the Chief Minister who were “giving him wrong suggestions and making him take wrong decisions”.
Rawat, meanwhile, said while 95 per cent of the manifesto promises have been implemented, some are “work in progress”. “He (Amarinder Singh) will be looking into drugs and sacrilege… He has promised that he will scrap some agreements with private thermal plants,” Rawat said, adding that the high command has asked Singh to take action in the Bargari case within the ambit of law.
On the time frame given to Singh, Rawat said: “He told us that he will get the matters examined legally and get back to us.” Rawat also said that the high command has taken note of the “issues” Sidhu has raised.
On Sunday, speaking to The Indian Express, Sindhu had said that while he is not seeking any post in the government or party, he can’t be used as a “showpiece” by “selfish, vested interests” to win elections. Asked about Sidhu’s statements, Rawat said he will examine them.