About 20 Punjab Congress leaders met in Ludhiana on Tuesday, with some of them batting for a key role for Navjot Singh Sidhu, the former state party unit chief who was among the participants.
The meeting was meant to discuss ways to "strengthen" the party's state unit after the debacle in the assembly elections and the Centre's decision to apply central service rules to employees of the Chandigarh Union territory, party leaders said.
Three days earlier, a similar meeting was held at Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district.
Bholath Congress MLA Sukhpal Khaira dismissed reports that the meeting was a show of strength by the "Sidhu group" before the Congress picks its next state unit chief.
"I want to clarify it was not a meeting of a particular group, Sidhu group, etc. It's very wrong to say this," he said.
"It was a meeting of the Congress party," he added.
Like-minded Congress MLAs, ex-MLAs, assembly election candidates and the former state Congress committee president gathered at the home of party leader Rakesh Pandey, leaders who attended the meeting said.
The participants included Khaira, Sidhu, Ashwani Sekhri and former MLA Surinder Dawar.
The Congress received a drubbing in the Punjab assembly polls as it could win only 18 seats and the Aam Aadmi Party stormed to power by bagging 92 of the 117 assembly segments.
Sidhu was defeated by AAP candidate Jeevan Jyot Kaur from Amritsar East constituency.
Following the poll debacle in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab -- Congress president Sonia Gandhi had asked the party's state unit chiefs to put in their papers.
Sidhu, too, tendered his resignation.
Khaira, however, said, "Sidhu's resignation is yet to be accepted by the high command".
"He is an able leader," Khaira said when asked if he will back Sidhu for the state's party chief post.
He added, "Whatever decision our party takes, we will all abide by that."
To another question, he said, "I want to categorically debunk claims regarding groupism within the party unit."
Khaira said the meeting took a strong view of the Centre's announcement to apply central service rules to the employees of the Union territory of Chandigarh.
"By doing so, the BJP government has attacked country's federal structure," he said.
"A unilateral decision was taken without consulting Punjab and the meeting strongly condemned the move. Chandigarh belongs to Punjab. But the BJP-led government is diluting the claim of Punjab over Chandigarh," he said.
Khaira said they are not against benefits being extended to the employees but asserted that there is no need to enact or amend a law, or change the service rules.
He said Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann should lead an all-party delegation to the prime minister on the issue.
"If the Centre does not listen to us, then Bhagwant Mann should lodge a protest outside the PM's residence. If they still don't listen, then the Punjab government should move the Supreme Court for further recourse," he said.
Ashwani Sekhri said the purpose of Tuesday's meeting was to discuss "Punjab issues".
He, too, backed Sidhu.
When specifically asked that names of party leaders Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Santokh Chaudhary and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa are doing rounds for the post of the state Congress chief, Sekhri evaded a direct reply and said there can be many names.
After the Ludhiana meeting, Sidhu, who was accompanied by Ashwani Sekhri and some other party leaders, went to Behbal Kalan, where two people were killed in a police firing during a protest against the desecration of a religious text in 2015.
Sidhu joined the protest by a family of a victim.
Sukhraj Singh, a son of the victim, has been sitting on an indefinite protest since December to demand justice.
In December, Sidhu had written to the then chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi seeking jobs for the kin of the victims.