An irate Manpreet, who was on Tuesday suspended from primary membership of the party at the behest of his cousin and president of Akali Dal, hinted at throwing a challenge to the party leadership led by his uncle and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Flanked by four sitting MLAs of the Akali Dal, Manpreet said he would try to convert the “minority of a few” into a majority. However, he did not elaborate how he would do it and did not commit on floating a new party.
Manpreet, who handed over his resignation as Finance Minister to the governor on Wednesday, also took a potshots at Sukhbir saying the party was well served by Parkash Singh Badal before Sukhbir took over.
The crux of the present crisis stemmed from Manpreet’s public claim of a debt relief package reportedly worked out by the Centre for Punjab for waiving Rs 35,000 crore worth of the state’s accumulated debt in lieu of meeting certain conditions, including slashing of power subsidy.
Manpreet claimed it was a historic opportunity for the state to get rid of its debt. However, the Punjab government led by Parkash Singh Badal and his son, Sukhbir, scoffed at Manpreet’s claims saying the government had not yet received any firm offer from the Centre and that the reduction of subsidies would be politically suicidal for the party.
Sukhbir mounted a concerted public campaign against Manpreet by marshalling the party’s district unit presidents and senior leaders in denouncing his cousin’s “anti party activities”.
“I am deeply hurt by the malicious propaganda unleashed by senior party leadership against me. I have set high standards of integrity. “I have taken a principled stand and will go to every household in Punjab to convey to the people that I was only fighting to regain the lost glory of the state by ridding it off debt,” Manpreet told media persons here.
Political observers here link the controversy to the likely coronation of Sukhbir as chief minister by his father in the months preceding the ensuing Assembly elections about 18 months away.
Manpreet, like many others in the Akali Dal, was apparently not enamoured with Sukhbir’s style of functioning. Manpreet is also seen as a rallying point for future dissidents within the Akali Dal.