New Delhi: On Saturday, 44-year-old Amarinder Singh Raja Warring beat out numerous senior candidates to be named the new Punjab Congress speaker, replacing Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was asked to step down in light of the party’s disastrous performance in the state assembly recently held. elections.
Warring, a former president of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC), served as transport minister in the previous state government under Charanjit Singh Channi. Congress was ousted from power in March as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept the polls.
Channi and Sidhu failed to win the three seats they were vying for with each other, as the Congress won only 18 seats out of the 117 members of the assembly. He also suffered defeat in the other four states that went to the polls – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Sidhu, who was asked to resign along with the Congress leaders of the other four states to “facilitate reorganization” in state units, has yet to secure an organizing post in the Punjab Congress.
Party sources told ThePrint that the decision to make Warring the Head of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) was taken after several rounds of deliberation between the central leadership, led by party chairwoman Sonia Gandhi, and state leaders.
Warring’s appointment, a month after Sidhu’s resignation, comes at a time when months of infighting threaten to weaken the organizational structure of Congress in Punjab, and there could be further upheaval due to recent appointments.
Last week, Congress MP Lok Sabha from Ludhiana Ravneet Bittu met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. In a tweet, Bittu said he had “discussed Punjab issues” in the meeting, causing a stir within the party and in political circles.
A section of Congress told ThePrint at the time it could be a ‘signal to high command’ as they deliberate who would be next Head of CCPP. Others said it could indicate Bittu is looking to jump ship to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Bittu has yet to make a statement on the reunion. However, keeping it within the fold of Congress may well be Warring’s first task as head of the PPCC.
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“From Sotha to Warring”
Warring is a three-time MP for Gidderbaha Constituency in Muktsar District in Punjab. Once mentored by former Congressman Jagmeet Brar (now part of Shiromani Akali Dal), the 44-year-old began his political career in 2000 with the Youth Congress in Muktsar.
The war was would have known as “Raja Sotha” before entering politics. Interestingly, he was called ‘Raja’ in his childhood as he was the namesake of former Punjab CM captain Amarinder Singh whom his family looked up to. Ironically, when the turmoil between the Captain, Sidhu and the Gandhis reached the before in 2021, Warring proved to be one of Amarinder’s biggest critics in the Punjab Congress.
‘Sotha’ is the name of the native village of Warring’s maternal family in Muktsar. He would have started adding ‘Sotha’ in his name after his maternal uncles took him in and raised him after his parents died when he was a child. He was advised to start using the name of his father’s village, Warring, as his surname when he entered politics. Raja Sotha thus became Raja Warring. However, among some sections of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), he is still referred to as Raja Brar, Brar being his maternal surname.
“Chosen by Rahul Gandhi”
Warring held several positions in the Punjab Youth Congress before being hand picked by Rahul Gandhi to contest Gidderbaha in the 2012 National Assembly elections.
He won the seat, handily beating Manpreet Singh Badal – the distant cousin of SAD leader Sukhbir Badal and then leader of the Punjab People’s Party (PPP) – on his home turf. Manpreet has since rejoined Congress and served as finance minister in governments led by Amarinder Singh and Channi. However, a public rivalry between Warring and Manpreet Badal continues.
Warring then served as IYC President from 2014 to 2018, again at the request of Rahul Gandhi, during which time he won the Gidderbaha seat for the second time in the 2017 Punjab elections.
In 2019, he contested Bathinda’s Lok Sabha election against SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal but lost by a narrow margin.
He was inducted Minister of Transport in the Channi government in September 2021 and was vocal critic of former CM Amarinder Singh, who was ousted by the Gandhis.
The war continues to be seen as close to Rahul Gandhi, and his appointment is seen as part of the Gandhi scion’s efforts to reduce the influence of the party’s old guard in the central leadership as well as in its state units. .
Difficult task of keeping the herd together
Besides Warring, many other leaders were vying for the top job, including 65-year-old Partap Singh Bajwa, who was appointed leader of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) in the Punjab assembly. The names of former Food Minister and double MPP Bharat Bhushan Ashu (51), ex-MP CM Sukhjinder Randhawa (63), former Public Works Minister Vijay Inder Singla (50 years) and Ravneet Bittu (46) were also making the rounds.
Ashu was appointed incumbent President under Warring, while Chabbewal MP Dr. Raj Kumar was appointed Deputy Leader of the PLC under Bajwa.
In the weeks following the electoral defeat, Sonia Gandhi met with MPs and Punjab leaders to assess the reasons for the defeat and to gather their feedback on possible organizational changes.
Warring was then tasked with keeping the party in the state while allaying the aspirations of senior and junior leaders.
The decision to pick the Punjab Congress leader was a bit more difficult for the high command, considering that a fight between its top leadership in the state is seen as one of the reasons for the loss of the party. in the polls.
In an internal power struggle that began in the second half of 2021, the Gandhi family offered their support to Navjot Sidhu on Amarinder Singh. Singh later resigned as Chief Minister and from the party, then formed his own party called the Punjab Lok Congress. The party fought assembly polls in alliance with the BJP, but Amarinder lost his seat.
While Sidhu was appointed Punjab Congress leader, replacing leader Sunil Jakhar, the CM presidency was offered to Charanjit Singh Channi, just six months before the elections. As Channi’s popularity as the leader of the Dalit Sikhs grew, an internal war began again, this time between the Sidhu, a Jatt Sikh, and Channi. A ceasefire was temporarily put in place just weeks before the election, with Gandhis announcing Channi as the face of the party’s CM.
At a March meeting of the Congressional Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, Sonia Gandhi reportedly mentioned that she “continued to protect ‘Amarinder’ despite the complaints against him”.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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