Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, 44, Friday formally took charge as the Punjab Congress president — 29th to hold the post and the youngest ever — saying “discipline, dedication and dialogue” are needed to revive and strengthen the party. Stating that the Congress is not merely a political outfit, but “it is a thought and an ideology” and “thoughts and ideologies never end,” Warring, a former Indian Youth Congress chief, also warned of disciplinary action against those trying to weaken the party.
During the low key event, former minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu also took oath as working president of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee.
Warring, a former transport minister, succeeds Navjot Singh Sidhu, who along with presidents of party units in four other states was asked by AICC president Sonia Gandhi to step own the following Congress rout in Assembly elections in February.
Sidhu, who has been holding parallel shows of strength, reached the Congress Bhawan but did not share the stage with other party leaders. He briefly met Warring and left after congratulating him.
Asked later why Sidhu dis not share the stage during the ceremony, Warring said only the former PCC chief can answer that question.
“He came, hugged me and congratulated me. You can ask him why he did not sit on the dais,” said Warring, a third time MLA from the Gidderbaha Assembly constituency in Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib.
Former deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, however, termed Sidhu’s action as an insult to party leaders.
“He (Sidhu) should have sat down with the party leaders and workers. It is an insult to Congress leaders and workers. It is for the people to judge,” Randhawa , the MLA from Dera Baba Nanak, said. Hinting at the factionalism within the state party unit, he said things were not likely to improve unless Congress “adopts” the Taksali leaders (the old guards) instead of those who “migrated”.
In a calibrated response, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) chief Partap Singh Bajwa said, “Congress can only gain in unity”.
“One must see what happened to Capt Amarinder Singh after he was no longer with Congress,” Bajwa said, referring to former CM’s defeat from his bastion Patiala in the Assembly polls.
Former state party chief Sunil Jakhar, who has been served notice by the disciplinary committee for alleged anti-party activities, was conspicuous by his absence, as was former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal. Warring, while responding to a question during the press news conference later said he did not have any talk with Manpreet. Warrimg, however, had extended an invitation to Sidhu for the event.
Earlier, addressing the gathering, Warring gave his “3-D” formula. “We have to follow three Ds – discipline, dedication and dialogue to take the party forward and lay the foundation of a ‘nivekali’ (unique) Congress.”
Stressing that discipline was essential for strengthening the party, he said no person or party can grow in absence of discipline. He added that dedication towards shouldering responsibility was very important.
Talking about the importance of dialogue, Warring said that there was a need to take everyone along. “If Raja Warring has become PPCC president and he does not hold dialogue with anyone and frame policies without consulting anyone, then Congress cannot succeed,” he said.
Warring thanked the party leadership including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for making him the Punjab Congress president.
Asked about Sidhu meeting the Punjab Governor without the party’s state unit chief on Thursday, Warring said, “Every person has a right to go anywhere and everybody has a right to raise his voice anywhere. This is the Congress.”
Warring, however, said nothing should be done to weaken the party. “If anybody works towards weakening the Congress, the disciplinary action will surely be taken against him,” he said.
Warring now leads a party which was routed in the Assembly polls, winning only 18 seats in 117-member Vidhan Sabha, down from 77 it had won in 2017 ending the 10-year ruled of Akali Dal.
During the press conference, Warring said he would usher in a “new Congress” which will not be a “one-man Congress”. “My test (imtihaan) starts today. From being appointed as block president of the party to head Indian Youth Congress to represent the constituency as three-time MLA, I always completed tasks assigned to me. In case I do not pass the test, I will deserve no position,” said Warring.
Ashu too spoke about the “challenge” of uniting the party’s “demoralized workers”. He said in the Congress, there is “no personal branding”.
Meanwhile, without naming anyone, AICC in-charge of Punjab Harish Chaudhary said nobody is above the party. He rued that “utterances” by certain party leaders gave the AAP a chance to come to power in the state.
Asked if he was referring to Sidhu, Chaudhary said, “I am not taking anybody’s name. You should not put words in my mouth.”
On being told that Sidhu blamed “mafia raj” for the party’s defeat in the Assembly polls, Congress MP Manish Tewari said, “In the Congress, there are some ‘bhagidars’ (stakeholders) and some are ‘kiraydars’ (tenants). This is the answer to your question.”
Appreciation letter to DCC presidents
After taking oath as PCC chief, Warring interacted with district Congress presidents and handed them framed appreciation letters. “The party appreciates the zeal and dedication with which you have worked for the party as the district Congress committee chief. We hope that in the coming times also you will remain associated with the party and would fully contribute to take party to the newer heights,” reads the letter written in Punjabi.
The poster boy
Warring, during the press conference, said was interested in politics since childhood and used to put up his own posters during Maghi mela in Muktsar. “My parents died when I was very young. My Grandmother brought me up and my sister. I used to save pocket money for whole year to put my posters during Maghi mela. A poster at that time used to cost Rs 1.25. The cost of pasting them was almost One Rubee. So I will hire a rehra, make levi (gum) and paste the posters with the help of a friend overnight. The Almighty have fulfilled my wishes and given me a chance to lead state Congress. I owe my identity to this party,” said Warring.
Not so sweet fiasco
After Warring took over as Punjab Congress chief, Ashu tried to offer sweets to him but was prevented by AICC Punjab affairs incharge Harish Chaudhary. In videos being shared on social media, Chaudhary was seen making Ashu put the sweet back on plate and handing over the plate to Partap Singh Bajwa, who then offered sweet to Warring, followed by Channi as Ashu was seen in an awkward position.