New Delhi, March 22: The Congress today reacted sharply to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s declaration that Arun Jaitley would be the deputy Prime Minister, alleging that the Akali Dal was making a desperate attempt to salvage his electoral prospects in Amritsar after the challenge thrown by Amarinder Singh.
Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab, said: “Jaitley now faces certain defeat. He anyway agreed to contest his first election from Amritsar because the Akali Dal promised to fight for him. With Amarinder arriving, Jaitley is scared and Badal knows his party can’t fulfil its promise. So this ploy to fool the voters.”
Ironically, Amarinder, who is now being projected as an invincible choice by the Congress, himself did not want to contest from Amritsar and had publicly expressed his reluctance. The party not only lost the recent Assembly election under Amarinder’s leadership, many feel his strained relationship with the state unit chief, Pratap Singh Bajwa, has further weakened the party in the state.
Ahmed, however, said: “The Akalis are themselves not in a position to win a single seat, let alone helping Jaitley.”
The Congress general secretary asked the BJP and the NDA to publicly state if a decision had been taken to appoint Jaitley as deputy Prime Minister. “We would like to hear from Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh whether they have chosen to play second fiddle to Jaitley who was only a minister of state in Vajpayee cabinet for the first few years.”
The Congress is highlighting this issue to force a denial from the BJP, which will acutely embarrass both Badal and Jaitley in Amritsar.
Jaitley has already clarified that Badal only meant Punjab would get a strong voice in Parliament. But the Congress knows that such declarations will fuel the fire of dissension within the BJP leadership.
The controversy surrounding L.K. Advani’s candidature and the revolt by the veteran Jaswant Singh have given the Congress fresh ammunition to target the BJP. Congress spokespersons have been regularly saying that nobody except Modi mattered in the BJP anymore.
The treatment meted out to veterans Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi prompted them to say Modi does not respect seniors. The Congress is now eagerly awaiting the fireworks from Jodhpur where Jaswant Singh is expected to speak out.
In Punjab, the Congress leadership may be enthusiastic about Amarinder’s entry into the electoral fray but the party has its own share of problems.
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari has finally opted out of the race owing to ill health and a fresh hunt is on for a candidate from Ludhiana.
State Congress chief Bajwa, whose name was announced from Gurdaspur earlier, may be shifted to Ludhiana. If that doesn’t happen, Ravneet Singh Bittu, who vacated his seat in Anandpur Sahib for Ambika Soni, may be shifted to Ludhiana.
Tewari’s exit came amid speculation that he did not want to fight because of unfavourable conditions in his constituency and was keen to be shifted to Chandigarh in place of Pawan Bansal, leaving the leadership seething.
Then came the reports of his illness, followed by indications that he would contest from Ludhiana. But sources today confirmed that his candidature was no longer being considered.