Minister-wife draws flak for Amarinder's absence

Chandigarh, April 5 (IANS) Union Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur was at the receiving end of political barbs from her party leaders when her husband and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and his son failed to turn up for the first visit of the newly appointed Punjab Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa to Patiala town earlier this week.

Despite Bajwa's visit being notified well in advance, Amarinder Singh, who is known for his royal ways - being from the erstwhile royal family of Patiala - chose to stay away even though Bajwa was visiting the assembly constituency that the former chief minister represents.

The Patiala meeting was called to welcome the new Punjab Congress chief and the absence of the local legislator is being read as loaded with significance.

Even Raninder Singh, son of Amarinder Singh-Preneet Kaur, was conspicuous by his absence during Bajwa's visit.

Raninder Singh had contested the nearby Samana assembly seat in the elections last year, and lost.

Senior Congress leader Lal Singh questioned Preneet Kaur about the absence of her husband and son from the meeting.

"It is our duty to keep the party united. But the representative of the Patiala assembly seat is missing from the meeting, being held in his area. It was his duty to be present here along with his son," Lal Singh, once a close confidant of Amarinder Singh, said at the meeting.

Lal Singh claimed that Amarinder Singh told him that he had not been invited to the meeting.

"Maharani Sahiba (as Preneet Kaur is addressed), you are in-charge of this workers meet and it was your duty to inform and invite Amarinder Singh to it. This will send a signal that the party is divided," Lal Singh told the minister, who is the Lok Sabha MP from Patiala.

Lal Singh, while pointing out that Amarinder Singh's style of functioning had led to the party's defeat in recent assembly elections and subsequent bypolls, said that he could not be ignored in Punjab's political scene.

While the Amarinder Singh camp claimed that he was not informed or invited for Bajwa's event, senior Congress leader and party vice president Charanjit Singh Channi claimed from the dais that he had informed the former chief minister about it.

The absence of Amarinder Singh is being read as an expression of the continuing feud between the leaders of the Punjab unit of the Congress.

Bajwa had, last month, replaced Amarinder Singh as the state Congress chief. This was after the party had faced major electoral reverses, including defeat in the January 2012 assembly elections and subsequent by-elections.

Bajwa used to be a cabinet minister in Amarinder Singh's government (2002-2007).

This is not the only time that Amarinder Singh has embarrassed Bajwa in less than a month.

When Bajwa was made the state Congress chief, Amarinder Singh went on record to say that he "would have suggested a better candidate" for the post.

Recently, when Bajwa assumed office, Amarinder Singh held a parallel lunch in Chandigarh which was attended by over 20 legislators and a number of other senior Congress leaders.

Amarinder Singh came to Bajwa's event in Chandigarh quite late, with all these legislators and other leaders in tow. The message went out loud and clear to Bajwa that he still wields clout among party leaders.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

Most Popular in Asia