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Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)
Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)

Trouble in Congress’ Punjab unit marks Sonia’s one year as interim chief

  • The biggest challenge for Sonia Gandhi is dealing with internal rebellion in Congress-led state governments
  • Some Congress leaders have joined hands with members of the NDA to criticize the Amarinder Singh-led govt

NEW DELHI : Trouble is brewing in the Punjab government under chief minister Amarinder Singh as a section of Congress leaders have joined hands with members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state to criticize his government.

The timing of the political infighting could not have been worse as Congress president Sonia Gandhi completed one year as interim party chief on Monday. The biggest challenge for her comes from Congress-led state governments where younger leaders have openly rebelled against the senior leaders.

Political troubles for the Congress in Punjab have cropped up against the backdrop of a faction fight in the party’s Rajasthan unit where the government led by chief minister Ashok Gehlot is likely to face a floor test on 14 August, and in the wake of the infighting within the party in Madhya Pradesh.

The rift in Punjab is more worrying given that under Singh, the party has been in power for more than three years now and there has been no major organizational conflict till now. However, the government has now come under attack from not only the main political rival, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), but also a section of leaders within the Congress.

The key bone of contention is the recent hooch tragedy in the state, which has claimed at least 121 lives.

The banner of revolt within the Congress has been raised by two of its Rajya Sabha members, Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo, who have alleged “clear-cut failure" of the state administration and demanded probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as well as the enforcement directorate (ED) into the alleged “illegal" liquor trade. The SAD has demanded a high-level probe and held protest demonstrations.

“Everywhere, there are chinks in the armour that our rivals are encashing on. What is happening in Punjab is reflective of the looming leadership question in the central unit. Whether it is about taking disciplinary action or constant interaction with the high command, the intervention required in a state like Punjab is taking an immediate call," said a senior Congress leader from the state unit requesting anonymity.

The developments in the state are significant because the Singh-led Congress had defeated the earlier SAD government on the key election planks of the battle against drugs and illicit liquor. As such, senior Congress leaders feel that the political narrative being built against the government, which will seek re-election in less than 18 months, is a cause of worry.

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