Why one of Captain’s most fierce critics found no place in new Cabinet

There are faces in the new cabinet who remained loyal to Captain Amarinder Singh and opposed Navjot Singh Sidhu, and still managed to bag ministerial berths. It is only Bajwa and his men who seem to have missed out.

IN THE new-look Punjab Cabinet that was unveiled on Saturday, a bunch of new faces and a few old loyalists managed to find spots. A prominent name missing from that list, however, was that of former Punjab Pardesh Congress Committee president and member of Rajya Sabha, Partap Singh Bajwa, who has been a staunch opponent of former Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, for the last nine years.

Speaking to The Indian Express on Sunday, Bajwa — who was known among the Congress ranks as the most vociferous critics of the Captain, if not his strongest opponent — said he was willing to watch for now as new alliances emerged within the Congress after the Cabinet formation and did not want to think much of the fact that he had missed out on a Cabinet berth.

Bajwa said that he had pushed for a few names of his own to be included in the new Cabinet. But all the names he backed were first-time MLAs.

“A total of six tickets were handed out on my recommendation in the 2017 Assembly polls. Five out of the six candidates i suggested won the elections. One of these MLAs, later, had joined a rival camp within the Congress after his election. Hence, I just had four loyalists — Joginder Pal from Boha, Balwinder Singh Laddi from Hargobindpur, Santokh Singh Bhalaipur from Baba Bakala, and my brother Fathe Singh Bajwa from Qadian. All these MLAs are first-imers.”

There are faces in the new cabinet who remained loyal to Captain Amarinder Singh and opposed Navjot Singh Sidhu, and still managed to bag ministerial berths. It is only Bajwa and his men who seem to have missed out.

“It is not that I didn’t push their names to be included in the new Punjab cabinet. But I was told that no first-time MLAs were being included in the new Cabinet and hence they cannot be considered,” said Bajwa, on being asked why he had no representation.
He said that for now he will just wait and watch.

“The new government will have to meet the expectations of the people. Captain Amarinder Singh couldn’t meet their expectations. So he had to go. It is obvious that people will judge the new government on if it is able to deliver on the promises made to them,” said Bajwa.
He added that the new government should immediately get to work by acting against leaders involved in the drugs trade. “Action should also be taken in the sacrilege cases. The new Cabinet will also be expected to lower the electricity charges in the state. There are many promises that they need to deliver on if they want to win the trust of the people of this state.”

Bajwa’s two ‘blunders’

Bajwa had led the Charge against the Captain after the Congress had failed to form the government in the state in 2012 despite being piped as the hot favourites to do so. He later even went on to topple Captain Amarinder Singh and take over the reins of the state Congress unit in March 2013, becoming its president.

Bajwa also, in what was initially considered as a masterstroke, had pushed the name of Captain Amarinder Singh to contest against BJP’s heavyweight candidate, Arun Jaitley, from Amritsar in the 2014 Parliament elections. In doing so, Bajwa had sensed that the Captain wouldn’t like to get involved in such a high profile contest and it won’t be an easy fight for him. This in turn, he hoped, would automatically push the Captain into retirement. Bajwa was right in his calculations to some extent. Captain Amarinder, indeed initially, drag his feet in getting into a poll contest against Arun Jaitley. It was only after a push from Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, that the Captain jumped into the fight and later emerged victorious by a handsome margin.

Bajwa, however, on the other hand, too contested the 2014 polls, and lost from his home constituency, Gurdaspur. In a matter of months, his masterstroke had turned into a blunder.

It was at this moment that Bajwa started losing ground to the Captain with the latter ultimately emerging as the CM’s face in the 2017 polls.

Bajwa, however, continued to oppose the Captain even after the formation of the Congress government in the state in 2017 and was isolated. His rivals in Gurdaspur — Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa — became ministers in the Captain government.
War of words between Captain Amarinder Singh and Bajwa had become routine affairs till Bajwa finally reached some agreement with the Captain, even as Navjot Singh Sidhu started upping the ante against the government, earlier this year. Back in the good books of the Captain, he ended up launching a political campaign to contest the 2022 Assembly elections from Gurdaspur. He also managed to appoint some of his men at key posts in Gurdaspur.

However, before he could fully capitalise on his new-found-truce with the government, the Captain resigned as the Chief Minister of the state, paving the way for Charanjit Singh Channi to become the new leader at the helm of the state.

After Channi’s elevation, all of Bajwa’s men were immediately removed from key positions they had secured just a month ago and his rival — Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa — managed to get his loyalists to fill up the vacant spots.

Despite opposing him for nine years, when the time came, Bajwa didn’t gain much from the departure of the Captain government. His truce with the Captain at the last moment proved out to be his second bluncer and potentially led to his undoing.

Others making new alliances

While Bajwa seems left with very few options, MPs like Jabir Singh Dimpa and Gurjeet Singh Aujla from Majha have not taken much time to move on. Both Aujla and Dimpa had sided with the Captain till the last moment. However, as soon as a new chief minister took the oath of office, they were quick in reaching out to Channi. Going a step further, Dimpa even hosted Punjab Congress unit president, Navjot Singh Sidhu, for lunch Saturday.

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