Bajwa in Akalis' firing line as Amarinder sidesteps

Chandigarh, June 28 (IANS) Punjab Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa is learning the hard way what it means to be in the hot seat, being in the firing line of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ever since he replaced former chief minister Amarinder Singh in March.

Bajwa, the MP from Gurdaspur, has no doubt activated the Congress in Punjab after his elevation. Be it the Congress protests - from the streets to the Punjab assembly - the party seems to be more active than during Amarinder Singh's tenure.

It is for this reason alone that the Akalis have been targeting Bajwa. Almost every political action or statement of his is "rubbished" by the top Akali Dal leadership.

Even though Amarinder Singh was recently named a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), he seems to be out of the firing line of the Akalis for now. Amarinder Singh, who made a damaging statement on Bajwa's appointment saying he "would have suggested a better name", has been keeping away from mainline politics in Punjab. But then, even when he was at the helm of affairs, Amarinder Singh's frequent absence for days from the political scene was almost a norm.

The Akali barbs against Bajwa come quite frequently. When the Congress leader this week demanded a judicial probe into the assault on senior IAS officer K.S. Pannu by some stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand, the Akali Dal leadership reacted with scorn.

"For some time now, Bajwa has been painting himself red and green to draw public attention. He has been indulging in acts and making statements that reveal an abnormal state of mind born out of extreme political frustration. His demand for an inquiry into the Uttarakhand episode is the latest in this category," Akali Dal general secretary Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal said.

Grewal accused Bajwa of "playing gimmicks with a tragedy, one of the lowliest and inhuman ways to seek public attention".

"The reason for Mr. Bajwa's abnormal conduct is that his political balloon has already burst and the storm which he thought he will create against SAD has blown into his own face," Grewal said.

Akali leaders have accused Bajwa of competing with another Congress leader, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, in issuing statements.

When Bajwa criticized Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Akali leader and former union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said: "The Congress leaders should stop treating the country as their personal fiefdom in which citizens can travel only with the express approval of the Congress party."

Earlier, when the Akali Dal took the union government head-on over the issue of imposing wealth tax on agricultural land, its leaders did not spare Bajwa.

Ridiculing the contradictory statements made on the issue by Bajwa and Amarinder Singh, Akali Dal spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said: "On the one hand, Mr. Bajwa says that it is only a draft proposal, but on the other hand, Amarinder Singh is demanding its withdrawal. If it has not been imposed, how does the demand for withdrawal arise? This shows that leaders of the Congress party, which has imposed this cruel tax on the nation, are ill-informed about the situation."

The solace that Bajwa can draw from all this is that the top leadership of the Akalis acknowledge his political presence on a daily basis even though the intention is to pin him down every time.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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