Home / Politics / News /  Trouble in Punjab unit marks Sonia Gandhi’s one year as interim Congress chief

New Delhi: Trouble mounts for Congress-ruled government in Punjab as a section of party leaders have joined hands with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members in the state to criticize the Amarinder Singh-led government.

The rift in Punjab comes at a time when Congress president Sonia Gandhi completes one year as interim chief on Monday. For Gandhi, the biggest challenge comes from the led state governments where young leaders have openly rebelled against their seniors.

The political situation Punjab is more worrying given that the party has been in power for over three years now and has not seen any major organization conflict under chief minister Amarinder Singh. However, the government has now come under attack from a section of leaders within the party and main political rival – Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The key bone of contention is the recent hooch tragedy in the state which has claimed at least 121 lives so far.

Two of Congress' senior Rajya Sabha members -- Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo -- 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 "illegal" liquor trade. SAD too has demanded high level probe and launched protest demonstrations in the state.

“Everywhere there are chinks in the armour which 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 without letting the issue further," a senior party leader from the state unit said requesting anonymity.

The troubles for party’s incumbent Punjab unit comes close on the heels of a political crisis in Rajasthan where the Ashok Gehlot government is likely to face a floor test on 14 August. It also follows the developments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The Singh-led Congress voted out the earlier SAD government on the key election planks such as drugs and illicit liquor. 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 given that wiping out drugs from the state and cracking the whip on the illicit liquor nexus was two of its biggest promises.

“This massive Hooch Tragedy in Punjab needs a CBI probe. High ups in the Congress government have been named guilty by victims but the CM is refusing to indict his own legislators involved in the illicit trade," tweeted Sukhbir Singh Badal, chief of SAD.

Since Gandhi occupies an interim post, chorus has growing that a more hands on approach is required. Some of the senior most leaders of the party have been vocal on the issue including former union minister and lawmaker Shashi Tharoor who on Sunday told Press Trust of India that it was “unfair to her to expect her to carry this burden indefinitely". Officially, the party said on Sunday that she would continue on the top post till the process for electing new party chief is implemented.

In Punjab, both the factions have sought each other’s resignation. While the state unit has written to Gandhi demanding removal of both Bajwa and Dullo, the two leaders have demanded that Singh and state unit chief Sunil Jakhar should be removed from the post.

Troubles for Congress could mount further as SAD, which had crossed swords with the government over the farm ordinance issue, is upping the ante over issues of drugs and illicit liquor.

“The state government should book Cong MLAs and leaders including the owners of distilleries for murder in the hooch tragedy. We have also approached the Governor to dismiss the government Captain Amarinder Singh led Congress government and recommend an inquiry by a sitting judge of the HC or the CBI," said another SAD leader. .

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