New Delhi: The Congress on Friday virtually projected Capt Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial candidate for next year's Punjab Assembly elections on a day it got a boost with Manpreet Singh Badal, estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, merging his party.
"The face of the Congress campaign will be Capt Amarinder Singh," senior leader and party's campaign committee chief Ambika Soni said to a query in the presence of Amarinder Singh, his predecessor Pratap Singh Bajwa and Punjab CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi at the AICC headquarters.
Asked specifically whether Singh is the CM candidate, she said, "How can I say this thing now...You draw your own conclusion."
The Congress has a tradition of not projecting any chief ministerial candidate.
The question was posed to AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmed, AICC general secretary and in-charge of Punjab Congress affairs, during a joint press conference called to announce the joining of Manpreet Singh Badal and merger of his outfit People's Party of Punjab (PPP) with Congress. Ahmed, however, asked Soni to answer it.
Amarinder, who is Punjab Congress chief, said that Congress had lost the last Assembly elections in 2012 by a 0.8 per cent vote share while PPP had got 5 per cent of the votes.
"Had we come together, we could have saved Punjab," he said.
Manpreet, who was the state Finance Minister in 2010, quit the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal after differences cropped up between him and his uncle Parkash Singh Badal and cousin and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Manpreet on Friday said that Congress is "the right platform" for PPP's agenda, which is growth of Punjab and asserted there were "no pre-conditions" for the merger.
"We feel Congress will be a good, and actually the right and only platform where we can carry forward our Punjab agenda," he said at the AICC conference.
Replying to questions, Amarinder Singh made a scathing attack on Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, dubbing it as "totally inexperienced" and warning that Punjab will "not get back on its feet if AAP comes to power after 10 years of total ruination by SAD-BJP".
Singh also claimed that Kejriwal was trying to become Chief Minister of Punjab. He also ridiculed the AAP leader's poll promises, saying they showed his lack of experience.
He also said that with the merger of PPP, his party would now work towards bringing all secular like-minded parties together under "some sort of alliance" to defeat the Akalis and BJP.
He described BSP, CPI and CPI(M) as "like-minded parties" and made a veiled reference to AAP as a "disruptionary force".
Amarinder was chief minister of the state from 2002 to 2007. Congress lost two consecutive assembly elections in Punjab to Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine.