Chandigarh: When former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal proclaimed his innocence after being questioned by the state vigilance bureau over a land deal in Bathinda, he also unleashed a tirade against state Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, triggering a war of words.
Badal, who had left the Congress to join the BJP earlier this year, lashed out at his former colleague Warring while addressing a press conference Tuesday over the vigilance bureau calling him for questioning.
He alleged that Warring — who was his adversary even when they were in the Congress together — had surreptitiously met Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and fallen at his feet, begging to be spared from any possible vigilance probes.
In retaliation, Warring quickly issued a video statement, vehemently refuting the allegations. He also said that Manpreet Badal was “corrupt” and that everyone in Bathinda knew of it. He even accused Badal of stealing government furniture.
The Punjab vigilance bureau questioned Badal for four hours Monday, based on a complaint lodged by BJP leader Sarup Chand Singla, his political rival in Bathinda.
Singla has alleged that Manpreet misused his official position as the finance minister in 2021 to purchase a residential plot in Bathinda at an extremely low price.
During his press conference, Manpreet defended himself, stating that the plot was acquired through a standard e-auction process, and he had no means to influence the price.
“I have always been a strong votary of accountability in public life and I welcome the vigilance bureau asking me about the purchase of this plot. But the complaint against me is completely baseless. In fact, I have been at the forefront of trying to save every single penny of the Punjab government’s treasury,” he said.
However, as the press conference progressed, Badal’s tone became more combative as he directly challenged Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann and made unflattering remarks about Raja Warring.
‘I am not Raja Warring who will wear a mask’
In the press conference, Badal emphasised his commitment to accountability in public life and mentioned his efforts to save government funds
“I have led by example. I have never charged the government for the fuel in my official cars or even for my air and rail travel,” he added, further claiming that he was among the “handful of farmers” who paid power bills for multiple tubewells.
Badal then challenged Chief Minister Mann to use all his available resources to find any evidence of financial misappropriation while in office.
“Let me tell you Bhagwant,” Badal said, “I am neither afraid of you nor of your vigilance bureau. Use all your might to find anything against me, but you will not.”
He then compared himself favourably to Raja Warring, who, according to him, resorted to disguises and pleas for mercy.
“I am not a Raja Warring who will cover his head with a cap and wear a mask to hide his face and meet Bhagwant Mann to beg for mercy,” Badal alleged.
“I am accountable to the people of Punjab who I have served multiple times as finance minister and as MLA. If anyone finds that I have done something wrong then it is not for the vigilance bureau to act against me. I give the right to the public to shoot me dead,” Badal said.
‘Manpreet is a cunning man’
In response to Badal’s accusations, Warring refuted ever meeting Mann in the alleged manner.
“I do not need to meet Mann like this, nor can one meet him surreptitiously,” Warring said in a video statement.
He then pointed a finger at Badal. “Everybody in Bathinda knows how corrupt he is. Everybody knows in whose name a tax was collected in Bathinda. Manpreet is a cunning man and is used to fooling people with his big words and high moral claims while in reality he has harassed the people of Gidderbaha and Bathinda to no end,” Warring alleged.
He also questioned Manpreet’s claims of following austere practices.
“Manpreet claims that he did not take any person in his security, which is not true. He had more than three dozen men in his security who were working as helpers in his farms. It is also publicly known that when Manpreet vacated his official residence as finance minister, he even picked up the government furniture and took it with him. He paid for it only when it became public,” Warring alleged.
No love lost
Even Manpreet Badal and Raja Warring were Congress colleagues, they did not share a warm equation.
When Badal left the Congress in January to join the BJP, Warring had tweeted a “good riddance” message, calling the former “congenitally power hungry.
Good riddance.@MSBADAL is congenitally power hungry. He joined @INCIndia knowing party was winning.
5 yrs is long time for someone like him to stay out of power for reasons not unknown to anyone.
Instead of crying martyrdom, he should be apologising to Congress for betrayal.
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) January 18, 2023
Badal, who was previously in the Akali Dal, had represented the Gidderbaha constituency as an MLA multiple times. He was later defeated by Warring, who was supported by Rahul Gandhi, in the 2012 assembly elections.
The tension between the two leaders persisted even after Manpreet joined the Congress in 2016 and shifted to the Bathinda seat.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)