New Delhi: With an eye on Lok Sabha polls, Congress on Monday started the process of setting its house in order in faction-ridden Punjab, with party General Secretary Shakeel Ahmed holding a luncheon consultations with state leaders.
Despite second successive drubbing in the recently concluded Assembly polls, fissures within the Punjab Congress had refused to mitigate with bete noires Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa taking potshots at each other.
In April this year, former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was removed from the post of state Congress chief and replaced with Bajwa, fuelling an internal rivalry within the party.
Those who were present at the meeting included Bajwa, Amarinder, former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Chowdhury Lal Singh, Shamsher Singh Dhillon, Jagmeet Singh Brar, CLP leader Sunil Jakhar.
Ahmed merely said that all leaders present at the meeting pledged to work to strengthen the party. "It was an informal lunch," he said.
Senior leader Mahinder Singh Kaypee, who is abroad on a family function, pledged his support over telephone and said he would work for party.
The parleys assume importance as in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, the "astray" Punjab Congress seems to be moving in all directions.
The cold vibes between Bajwa and Amarinder were visible during the recent visit of Congress vice-President Rahul Gandhi, with both leaders ignoring each other while sharing dias with Gandhi.
The unity lunch organised by Ahmed was significant in the light of the fact that the fight for superiority and command in the state party leadership was not getting over and had brought concerns to the party high command.
In Punjab, Congress wanted to ride the anti-incumbency wave but was handed down a shocking defeat by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP in the Assembly polls last year.
The defeat in Punjab was a setback for the party as the leadership had gone to the extent of declaring senior leader Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial candidate, something rare in Congress.
AICC has been quick to blame the "laxity and overconfidence" of the state organisation for the poor result which it dubbed as a "setback".
The defeat was all the more shocking as Punjab has the tradition of never repeating the incumbent government.