DEHDRADUN/CHANDIGARH: Punjab Congress in-charge Harish Rawat on Friday said Amarinder Singh’s “proximity” with BJP leaders like Amit Shah puts a question mark on his secular credentials and warned the Centre not to attempt toppling a majority government in the state.
Alleging that the former Punjab chief minister was playing into the hands of people with whom he had no ideological ties, Rawat said Singh should have stood with the Congress leadership to save democracy.
Singh, who resigned from the top post in the state last month, had met Shah in Delhi on Wednesday and had said that he discussed the prolonged farmers stir against three agri laws with the Union home minister.
In a no-holds-barred attack on Singh, Rawat said he failed to keep his promises on important issues, including the Bagari sacrilege incident despite continuous reminders from his colleagues and the party leadership.
“Born out of his stubbornness”, Singh was of the belief that he does not need any advice from anyone, including MLAs, ministers and party leadership, he said.
Rawat claimed that a majority of Congress Punjab MLAs had expressed dissatisfaction on Singh’s functioning and many suggested he be replaced.
On Singh’s meeting with Shah, he told a press conference in Dehradun: “His proximity with Amit Shah and some other BJP leaders puts his secular credentials in doubt.”
Rawat advised Singh not to walk into the BJP’s trap and and become its “mukhauta” (mask) in Punjab.
“There is a general perception throughout Punjab that Singh and the Badals (opposition SAD) are helping each other and have a secret understanding. I always politely suggested him to take action on our election promises. At least five times I discussed these issues with Singh but with no result,” he said.
Rebutting Singh’s statement that he will leave the Congress as he has been “utterly humiliated”, Rawat said the party always gave him respect.
“The humiliation theory is being furthered under someone’s pressure,” he said, adding that Singh should not either directly or indirectly help the BJP which is “anti-Punjab and anti-farmers”.
“Singh was Punjab Congress president thrice and chief minister twice. Is it humiliation? He should compare himself with senior party leaders who had got much less than him in terms of opportunities,” the former Uttarakhand chief minister said.
Singh on Thursday scotched speculation of his joining BJP but said he will quit the Congress, which he asserted was going downhill with senior leaders being ignored.
“At a time when the country faces the challenge of saving democracy, Singh should have stood with (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi and strengthened her fight to save democratic values instead of playing into the hands of people who are using his so-called humiliation for political reasons,” Rawat said.
Rawat also warned the BJP-led Centre not to attempt to topple a majority government in Punjab.
The Punjab Congress in-charge also said there is positive progress in the negotiations between Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has resigned as state unit chief.
Channi is from the Dalit community and every political party should support him, Rawat said, adding that the chief minister is taking several pro-people decisions.
Referring to the choosing of a new Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, Rawat said, “What has been done (having a new leader in Channi) is in a way to protect his (Singh) honour and to improve prospects of the Congress in Punjab.”
Talking of Singh’s second term as chief minister, Rawat said despite reminders from his colleagues and leadership, Singh failed to keep his promises on important issues like the Bargari sacrilege incident and drugs menace.
The sacrilege issue was mishandled by Singh’s trusted lieutenants, he alleged, adding “in cabinet meetings there were heated discussions on it and many prominent ministers came to Delhi with a complaint that with Singh at the helm, Congress can’t win (2022 assembly) elections”.
Rawat said after prolonged discussions, Singh agreed to implement the 18-point agenda, which included the Bargari and drugs menace issue, and was suggested by a panel to the Congress’ president.
However, Singh forgot about his assurance to the panel on implementing the agenda and none of these points were implemented, he alleged.
He said he went to Singh’s house and after a lengthy discussion, “we came down to five points”.
These he promised to implement within 10 days, Rawat claimed.
“After this, 20 days passed, and we didn’t hear anything from him. The Congress MLAs and ministers were getting restless,” he said.
“As a result, in a letter to the party leadership, 43 MLAs said despite repeated efforts we could not get anything done by Singh, so please call a CLP meeting otherwise we are going to call a separate meeting,” he said.
Rawat said that he tried to contact Singh thrice, but he could not get him on telephone.
Despite a message being dropped, Singh did not bother to call back, he said.
Rawat said he suggested the Congress high command, that if they delay the matter then many MLAs may form a sperate group or may create some more problem for the party.
“It was then decided to call a CLP meeting. I officially informed Singh and requested him to attend it. In response, he called a separate meeting at his residence on the same day,” he said.
Before that, Congress president spoke to Singh about the complaints from the 43 MLAs and the CLP meeting, Rawat said.
Singh himself offered to resign as CM and when he did, Channi was chosen as CLP leader, he said, adding that all democratic procedures were followed and Channi later took oath as chief minister.
With opposition targeting the Congress government over inaction in sacrilege cases, Rawat said the Channi dispensation will in the next 15-20 days take some forceful steps on sacrilege and drug menace issues.
He asserted that Channi was running the government with full command.