Amarinder Singh said the only pressure he had been under for the past few months was that of his own loyalty to the Congress, because of which he continued to tolerate insult after insult
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, prompting the latter to lash out only hours later saying that the comments were spurred by the “pathetic situation” the party was in currently.
What Rawat said
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
How Amarinder responded
“Three weeks before stepping down as CM, I had offered my resignation to Sonia Gandhi but she had asked me to continue,” said Singh in a statement, ridiculing Rawat’s remarks that he seemed to be under pressure.
The former chief minister said the only pressure he had been under for the past few months was that of his own loyalty to the Congress, because of which he continued to tolerate insult after insult.
Reacting to Rawat’s remarks, Singh said even his worst critics and enemies could not doubt his integrity in this regard.
“But I am no longer surprised that a senior and seasoned Congress leader like Rawat is questioning my secular credentials. It is quite evident that I am no longer trusted and respected in the party that I have served loyally all these years,” he said, adding that “such remarks are prompted by the pathetic situation the party has now found itself in Punjab after being on a winning spree for four-and-a-half years”.
Singh added that the humiliating manner in which he was pushed into resigning just hours before the CLP meeting that was clearly convened to oust him, was a matter of public record.
“The world saw the humiliation and the insult heaped on me, and yet Mr Rawat is making claims to the contrary,” he remarked, asking “if this was not humiliation then what was it?”
Rawat, he said, should put himself in his shoes, and then, perhaps, “he would realise how insulting the entire affair was”.
Singh, who has scotched speculation of his joining the BJP but said he will quit the Congress, recalled that Rawat himself had publicly stated after meeting him that he was satisfied by his (Amarinder Singh) government’s track record on the 2017 poll promises.
In fact, Rawat had categorically stated, as recently as September 1, that the 2022 elections would be fought under his (Singh’s) leadership and the high command had no intention of replacing him, he pointed out.
“So, how can he now claim that the party leadership was dissatisfied with me, and if they were, then why did he deliberately keep me in the dark all this time?” Singh asked.
“If the party did not intend to humiliate him then why was Navjot Singh Sidhu allowed to openly criticise and attack on social media and other public platforms for months? Why did the party give the rebels, led by Sidhu, a free hand in undermining my authority?”
He said, “Why was no cognizance given to the uninterrupted spree of electoral wins I handed over to the party through the four-and-a-half years I was in the saddle?”
Singh asked why the Congress was allowing Sidhu even now to hold the party to “ransom and continue to dictate terms”.
“What is the pressure he exerts on the party leadership that they are so defenseless against him and are allowing him to have his way even to the cost of the Congress’ future in Punjab?” he asked.
Singh also denied allegations that he had refused to meet Charanjit Singh Channi after the latter’s swearing-in as Punjab chief minister.
He said Channi had called him up on the day of his swearing-in and was supposed to come over but failed to turn up.
As for not taking Rawat’s calls, Singh said it was all humbug.
“We spoke just a day before the CLP meeting was called. Rawat told me then there was nothing in the works and even claimed he had not seen any letter sent by 43 MLAs. I am shocked at the blatant way in which he is now lying about this,” the former chief minister added.
Singh said as the chief minister twice and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief on three occasions, he had worked with stalwarts like Pranab Mukherjee, Moti Lal Vohra, Mohsina Kidwai, Meira Kumar and Shakeel Ahmed as Congress in-charge for Punjab.
“I never had a single problem with any of them. I fail to understand Mr Rawat’s behaviour and actions,” he added.
Singh dismissed as total nonsense Rawat’s remarks that he was ‘circulating the theory of humiliation after meeting Amit Shah’, and pointed out that he had clearly said on the day of his resignation (long before his meeting with the Union home minister) that he had been humiliated by thrice by the Congress party, which had sidelined him to convene CLP meetings twice in Delhi and the last time in Chandigarh even though he was the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader then.
As for implementation of poll promises, the former chief minister said contrary to the lies being touted by Rawat, he had fulfilled nearly 90 per cent of the promises made in the 2017 election manifesto, which was a matter of record and could not be negated with frivolous and baseless statements.
Congress in crisis
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.
Rawat also warned the BJP-led Centre not to attempt to topple a majority government in Punjab.
Rawat 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.
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.
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.
With inputs from PTI