The differences in the INDIA bloc of Opposition parties are now apparent in Punjab, with the state Congress leadership making it clear that it is not keen on working with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that currently rules the state. But some leaders in the state unit insist that the big picture — defeating the BJP nationally — is important and the Punjab Congress leadership cannot be myopic.
At a Youth Congress programme on Thursday, Leader of the Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress minced no words. “Congress ke log, ye jo nayi jamaat aayi hai inka chehra dekhne ko raazi nahi hain … Reluctant friendship jo hoti hai, reluctant shaadi jab aap karwate ho toh woh reluctant shaadi dono parivaron ko phir nuksaan pahuncha deti hai. Hamare log aise anti-Punjab jamaaten ke saath koyee dur dur ka rishta nahi rakhna chaahte (Congressmen are not willing to see the faces of leaders of this new party … When there is a reluctant friendship, when you solemnise a reluctant marriage, it harms both the families. Our party workers do not want to be even remotely associated with people who are anti-Punjab).”
Bajwa went on to equate Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann with Adolf Hitler and said Mann and the AAP leadership would be subjected to “special trials for the excesses they were committing (when the Congress comes to power in the state)”. He added, “We will arrange to finish the termites.”
Bajwa requested Youth Congress chief Srinivas B V, who was on the stage, to convey this “viewpoint to the high command”.
This is the second time the Punjab Congress leader has officially opposed the alliance. Soon after talks about the INDIA grouping began nationally in June, Bajwa met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge to express his reservations.
While he did not openly speak against the alliance, Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring told The Indian Express that he “had conveyed the state unit’s views to the high command and was hopeful that the party high command would consider them”.
Bajwa’s sentiments echo down the ranks in the state Congress. While party leaders agree that the “larger cause is to keep the BJP away from power at Centre”, they feel that a partnership with the AAP in Punjab would pose several problems.
A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said, “In case an alliance happens, it will be difficult to transfer votes to each other. A part of the AAP cadre traces its roots to the Congress. And the Congress would like to retain its votes. We would prefer to be the ruling government in the state instead of working for the party in an alliance scenario. We will be finished and the BJP will get an edge.”
The Congress’s Bholath MLA, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, said the INDIA alliance would not be of much significance in Punjab, where the BJP is “irrelevant”. He added, “The INDIA alliance is to stop the BJP from coming to power. But the BJP cadre in Punjab is irrelevant. The BJP cannot win a single seat here. So, there is no point in having an alliance. So, where is the threat to INDIA in this state?”
Khaira said “compromising with the AAP at this stage would go against the party cadre”, adding, “Our party workers are against the vindictive policies Mann has adopted against us in the last 18 months.”
Former Congress MLA Rajinder Singh, one of the close confidants of former Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, said, “Given the vendetta against our leaders, we will not be able to mobilise our cadre in case of an alliance with the AAP. Sidhu sahib’s point of view was that if both parties contested jointly, all seats could be won. But the ground reality is different. People are disillusioned with the AAP. The election fever has withered away. But we can win seven to eight seats (out of a total ofl 13) if we contest on our own.”
Another senior party leader said the alliance was not possible. “CM Mann has been using humiliating language against us on the floor of Vidhan Sabha,” he added.
But others feel the alliance may benefit the Congress. A leader said since the AAP cadre came from the Congress base, it would end up working for the Congress. “Those who are opposing the alliance will not be contesting the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
A party functionary said those opposing the alliance were looking at the equations of state politics and “not thinking of the larger picture of keeping BJP out of power in 2024”.
The alliance, another leader said, would “put CM Mann in an awkward position as he ridicules the Congress leadership of the state”. He added, “But, if the high command of both the Congress and the AAP eventually decided to have an alliance, Punjab Congress and Mann will be left with no choice, but to go by their respective high commands.”