All is clearly not well in the Punjab Congress. For one, Manish Tewari, one of the most high-profile MPs from the party, is angry. And he has made no bones about this sentiment as his tweets show. Tewari, one of the 13 Congress MPs from Punjab, has been snubbed by the party in the list of star campaigners for Assembly elections on February 20.
Speaking to News18, Tewari said he saw it coming and, in fact, would have been surprised had his name been included.
“I would have been surprised had my name been included. You ask me the reason? Well, one of them is the fact that I am perceived to be close to Captain Amarinder Singh. I don’t abandon anyone just because they don’t hold a post anymore,” Tewari said, referring to Captain’s acrimonious ouster as Punjab CM last year.
Much has changed in the state since then. The party brought in Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister and trapped itself in a dilemma as elections approached. Denying state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu his long-nurtured ambition, the Congress declared Channi as the CM face last week. The Congress hopes to enlist the support of 30% Dalit, SC and ST vote bank in the state with this move.
But Tewari doesn’t agree with the logic. “Punjab is different. It doesn’t vote on caste or religion or Hindu-Sikh. Vote is not cast on caste. Channi is one of the MLAs from my Lok Sabha constituency Sri Anandpur Sahib. He has other credentials which should be projected,” he said.
Commenting on Sidhu’s position as Punjab Congress chief, Tewari said: “It is my firm belief that those who have risen from the ranks are the ones who should be considered. Many of us have risen from the ranks and been with the party. We don’t know about the credentials of those who have come from other parties.” Sidhu had jumped ship from the BJP to Congress in January 2017.
With the snub in Punjab, Tewari’s break from the Congress is nearly complete. He was one of the 23 senior leaders, who came to be dubbed as Group of 23 or G23, who had written to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi demanding organizational elections and complaining that party veterans were being sidelined. Tewari, however, says he is still dedicated to the party. “I became MP from Anandpur Sahib because of the ticket given by the party. I have been with this party for 40 years.”
But Tewari’s disagreements with the Gandhis, especially vis-à-vis some of the decisions taken by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, have been quite public. Speaking to News18, Tewari also appeared to disagree with Rahul Gandhi’s reply to the Motion of Thanks in Parliament, in which he had blamed the Narendra Modi’s government Kashmir policies for bringing Pakistan and China “closer”.
“Yes, China is a concern and there are developments that need to be watched. India has to stand up to China and China should be discussed. But the fact remains that when you have dissonance que enemies it does not work well to play out internally or externally… I am not saying we should not be talking about this publicly. I am saying we should be talking about this responsibly (sic).”
Many in G23 are watching to see how the Congress performs in Assembly elections 2022. It’s quite likely that some would speak out openly like Kapil Sibal did after last state elections. This time, Manish Tewari could join in.