Post goes to Pratap Singh Bajwa, MP from Gurdaspur

Pratap Singh Bajwa, Lok Sabha MP from Gurdaspur, has replaced Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab Congress president, ending months of speculation on a change. Capt. Singh survived the axe after the 2007 defeat of the Congress in Punjab but when the Akali Dal–BJP combine led by an aggressive Sukhbir Badal, now Deputy Chief Minister, crafted a second victory last year, it was clear that the innings of the erstwhile Raja of Patiala was coming to an end.

Mr. Bajwa’s appointment to the top job is expected to rejuvenate the party battered by a series of electoral defeats as also bring about a change in the functioning of the PCC. Indeed, one of Mr. Bajwa’s first statements after the appointment — late Tuesday night — was to assure Congressmen that he would not cultivate or work through ‘coteries,’ and would take everyone along.

The allusion was unmistakable. For, Congressmen had griped about Capt. Singh’s inaccessibility and tendency to function through a group of close associates, seen as one of the main reasons for the party’s two successive defeats in the State.

The relatively young Bajwa (51), who is a more hands-on man, is also being seen as someone who can give a fitting response to Mr. Badal’s politics and winning stratagems. Mr. Bajwa has been a minister four times and was also Youth Congress president in the early 1980s. He not only wrested his parliamentary constituency of Gurdaspur from the BJP’s Vinod Khanna in 2009 but also ensured the victory of his wife from Qadian to the Vidhan Sabha last year.

More than that, party sources say, what went in his favour is his capacity to mobilise youth and draw them into the party fold, something the junior Badal has done effectively for the Akalis. Speaking to The Hindu, Sukhpal Khaira, former legislator and critic of Capt. Amarinder Singh, said: “This is a welcome change, which we had been persuading the Congress high command to make for many months now. We hope to have a more accessible leader who will be in touch with the grass roots of the organisation which has been badly neglected in the last few years.”

Though the Akalis have said Mr. Bajwa’s appointment will not change the Congress’ fortunes, clearly the ruling party will have to face a more aggressive opposition in the Assembly and outside. His biggest challenge, however, will be to control infighting in the State Congress that is divided into many camps and strike a regional balance in his new team.