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Congress in doldrums in Punjab: will it manage to ride out the bumpy road?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:02 IST

Recent developments in Punjab have driven the Congress party on the back foot. The party, which was leading an aggressive campaign in the state ahead off the forthcoming assembly polls, now stands on the defensive and if looking for ways to be the agenda setter in poll season again.

The party has lost its momentum on several issues and its leadership is expected to have a tough time facing the public over it. Party president Captain Amarinder Singh himself is in the eye of the storm trying to battle it out.

Also read - Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal hit the ground in Punjab's Dalit heartland

To begin with, Amarinder lost his title of 'Saviour of Punjab Waters' after his rival and ruling Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal simply hijacked the agenda over the sharing of Punjab's waters with Haryana and construction of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Waning impact

Amarinder had emerged a hero after he had enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act in 2004. But the political battle that began after the Supreme Court started the hearings over the presidential reference on the act saw Badal taking the driving seat and setting the agenda not only for the Congress but also for the other political parties.

His decision to pass 'The Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016' after passing a resolution on not accepting any injustice on sharing of river waters and deciding to de-notify the land acquired for SYL construction has left the Congress high and dry. Badal is expected to tom-tom his decision throughout the build up to the elections and he is still going aggressive on the issue despite the SC ordering a status quo on the matter.

The nomination of Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo to Rajya Sabha is another setback

Another development that is being seen as a set back for Amarinder is the nomination of his predecessor Partap Singh Bajwa and senior Dalit leader Shamsher Singh Dullo to the Rajya Sabha.

Sources said that Amarinder was keen that former Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar and prominent Punjabi singer Hans Raj Hans, who had joined the party barely a few days ago, be nominated to the upper house of the parliament. It was the party high command that over ruled Amarinder's choice after Dullo made a representation.

The fact that Amarinder had not accompanied him to file filing his nomination led to a large number of Congressmen trying to persuade Jakhar to enter the fray as an independent. All this only served to further the split the party over the issue.

Read- Lot of promise: how parties are trying to win over Punjab's Dalit voters

Undermining authority and various setbacks

Observers point out that the message that went out after the episode was that Amarinder's authority over the Punjab unit of the party was undermined by the party high command. Dullo continues to take potshots over the issue pointing that the Congress must welcome new entrants but experience must be rewarded. He reportedly said, "Punjab wich ta navi viahi voti nu vi sas ghar diyan chabian ni dindi, eh taan Rajya Sabha di seat hai (In Punjab, even a newly married woman is not given the keys of the house by her mother-in-law. At stake here was a Rajya Sabha seat)."

The Congress also faced some embarrassing moments in the state assembly as well. The party had to issue a whip asking all its MLAs to be present in the house after it came to light that even the senior legislators had been giving a miss to the speeches of leader of opposition Charanjit Singh Channi.

Amarinder's authority over Punjab unit of the party has been undermined by Congress' high command

The party had a tough time trying to counter deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal. The latter had forced Channi to score a self goal during the debate on the state budget when he had aggressively asked him to recount the achievements of the Congress government under Amarinder. There were just three MLAs from the party - out of a strength of 42 who had tried to come to Channi's rescue.

Later, Amarinder stepped in to launch a counter attack on Sukhbir saying, "If they think that by trying to shout someone down like street bullies, as they tried to do with the CLP leader, they are going to befool people they are badly mistaken."

More sticky wickets

Another issue where the Congress finds itself on the sticky wicket is the matter pertaining to Amarinder's wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh's alleged Swiss bank accounts. The Income Tax department has reportedly submitted a challan in Ludhiana court against Raninder for furnishing wrong information with regards to the finances of a trust and several companies floated by him.

It is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that has launched an attack on Amarinder asking him to answer the public on the issue. Furnishing details of some of the HSBC accounts in Geneva, party leader Ashish Khaitan said, "The Akalis and the Congress seem to be hand in glove with Amarinder on this issue. They have not uttered a word on the issue. Amarinder should come out and answer the public on this issue."

Another sticky wicket: Amarinder's wife Preneet Kaur & son's Raninder Singh's alleged Swiss accounts

AAP leaders said that it was the money plundered from the people of Punjab that was stashed in the Swiss banks through Hawala route by Amarinder's family when the Congress was in power in the state.

On the defensive

Amarinder has dismissed the issue as a "classic case of political vendetta borne out of bruised egos and haunting memory of a humiliating defeat". He said that he had full faith in the judiciary and expressed confidence that his son will come out clean in the case after the due judicial process.

"They have been doing it for the last two years since my Amritsar election and every time they tried it, they failed miserably and they will fail once again," he asserted, while pointing out that the issue was raised by prime minister Narendra Modi during an election speech in Barmer and Subramanian Swamy in run up to the 2014 General Elections and they have been pursuing it since then with dogged pursuit without any success.

Under attack

Jumping in the fray Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma said that Amarinder is making a desperate attempt to take defence of "political vendetta". "Amarinder is unaware of the fact that the matter dates back to the time, when his own party - the Congress, was in power and running the UPA government," said Sharma.

Sharma pointed out that the IT was constantly probing the matter since 2011, when the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, was ruling the country.

Asserting that the plea of "political vendetta" holds no ground he said, "After the chargesheet, the matter was pursued by the prosecuting agency for almost four years. Thorough investigations were undertaken by Income Tax, wherein it transpired that Raninder had furnished false information, submitted false statements on oath and verified false statements in connection with foreign accounts."

The issue is bound to reverberate in the political milieu in the days to come with even dissidents in the Congress also making noises.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

More in Catch - AAP, Congress & SAD take Delhi politics to Punjab

Can Punjab Congress crawl back to victory after Amarinder's full overhaul?

There's a Cong-SAD-AAP war in Punjab over sharing water with Haryana

First published: 23 March 2016, 20:14 IST