Senior Congress leader and Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari’s continuing bid to focus on Chandigarh affairs has triggered a buzz in Punjab political circles that he might be exploring the constituency before throwing his hat into the new ring in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Last week, Tewari allotted Rs 10 lakh for setting up open air gyms in the Union Territory from his MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund. He gave Rs 5 lakh for an open air gym in Ram Darbar area and Rs 5 lakh for a gym in Punjab Engineering College in Sector 12 in Chandigarh.
When a delegation of Chandigarh’s Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) met him last week, Tewari, who has a house in the city, told them that in case of any of their grievances, he would be “always there for them”.
Speculations have been rife that Tewari might be testing the ground in a bid to switch to Chandigarh seat in the next parliamentary polls, with his rivals within the Congress and other parties even claiming that he might do it as a Congress candidate or even on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket.
Senior Congress leader and ex-Chandigarh MP Pawan Bansal has lost the last two Lok Sabha elections from the constituency at the hands of BJP MP Kirron Kher. Bansal has also sought to push his son Manish into Punjab politics, thereby leaving Chandigarh wide open for any party candidate.
On the other hand, the AAP, which recently swept the Punjab Assembly polls in a spectacular victory, has also been growing remarkably in Chandigarh politics, emerging as the single largest party in the December 2021 Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls.
Dismissing speculations that he has been positioning himself as a prospective candidate for Chandigarh parliamentary seat, Tewari told The Indian Express that his contribution from MPLADS fund for Chandigarh’s development work was “just a payback to the city that made me what I am” and that “he will again contest from Anandpur Sahib constituency in 2024 elections”.
“This (MPLADS contribution) is only because I was born, brought up here – my school, college and university all have been from Chandigarh and my current constituency embraces Chandigarh,” he said.
Asked why he did it from the fund meant for Anandpur Sahib, Tewari said, “Every MP is entitled to spend Rs 25 lakhs a year outside his constituency anywhere in the country. The MPLADS scheme provides for it. I have donated these gyms to the capital of Punjab. Given that my constituency embraces Chandigarh from all three sides, a lot of my constituents also live in Chandigarh since it is the urban hub of the region. Moreover, there were 18 such requests (of open air gyms and other works) since 2019 from old colleagues in Chandigarh. Then because of Covid, MPLADS was discontinued. It has only been restored from April 1, 2022 .”
When asked about his rivals’ claims that he has been gearing up to switch to the AAP fold, Tewari said, “I have been a Congressman for forty years. I consider it beneath my dignity to dignify such an insinuation with a response. As I have stated earlier, I am a stakeholder in the Congress, not a tenant.”
In Parliament’s recent sessions, Tewari has strongly raised issues pertaining to Chandigarh, whether it was to protest the demolition of Chandigarh’s largest slum colony number 4, or to oppose the proposal to privatise Chandigarh’s electricity utility department, or to move a private member’s Bill seeking a Rajya Sabha seat for Chandigarh, or to press for a mass rapid transport system (MRTS) for tricity comprising Chandigarh and other cities.
On April 30, Tewari addressed a gathering at the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh and gave Rs 5 lakhs from his MP fund for setting up an open air gym there. He was accompanied by his old associate Chander Mukhi Sharma, who had quit the Congress to join the AAP in 2021. Tewari said he was there on Sharma’s request. A prominent leader of the AAP’s Chandigarh unit, Sharma had also contested the Chandigarh civic polls on the party’s ticket but lost.
Sidelined from the centre-stage of Congress politics,Tewari has been upset with the party leadership for a long time. He is one of the dissident “G-23” Congress leaders, who had demanded a “visible, collective and inclusive” party leadership. Days after the Congress’s debacle in the recent Assembly polls, he said the “party could be looking at Congress-mukt Bharat”.
Two months ago, Tiwari had said, “Hum Congress mein kirayedar nahi hain…hissedar hain…Agar koi dhakka deke nikalega to wo doosri baat hai. (I am not a tenant…but a stakeholder in the Congress…if someone wants to throw me out of the party that is another thing).”
Earlier, Tewari had trained his guns on senior party leader and then Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi as well as the latter’s rival and then state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. During the Punjab polls, he had also been miffed with the party over his exclusion from the list of its star campaigners.