At the centre of a controversy over her conviction in a land grab case, an unfazed Congress secretary in-charge of Punjab Asha Kumari on Monday rejected demands for her resignation, asserting she had party chief Sonia Gandhi's "full mandate".
Amid reports that her appointment as secretary in-charge of Punjab has left the Congress embarrassed, Kumari met Sonia and accused BJP, AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal of unnecessarily making an issue out of a "non-issue".
"I am sorry, I cannot oblige them," she told reporters, rejecting calls for her resignation.
"I have been given full mandate by the Congress president and vice president to work for the party in Punjab," she said after her meeting.
The appointment of Asha Kumari, a niece of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and four-term MLA from Dalhousie, on Sunday, had kicked up a storm after it emerged that she had been convicted in a land grab case in which she had allegedly transferred forest land to her husband. She was sentenced to a year in jail but it currently out on bail.
The information, coming as it did close on the heels of senior Congress leader Kamal Nath relinquishing the post of general secretary in-charge of Punjab, days after being appointed, over allegations of his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, was reported to have caused embarrassment to the party.
BJP, AAP and SAD were quick to assail the Congress leadership for appointing Kumari the secretary in-charge of the party in Punjab which will have assembly polls next year, saying the party was not serious about the state.
"It is for parties to decide who is going to lead the party. If somebody is there in government, it is a different issue," she said, adding AAP cannot decide who will lead the Congress in which state.
AICC sources said Kumari will not continue as AICC secretary in-charge of Haryana, a responsibility she was handling for some. Kamal Nath continues to be AICC general secretary in-charge of Haryana even after relinquishing the charge of Punjab.
Kumari said BJP and AAP were trying to make "an issue out of a non-issue" as they "fear" Congress.
"We are very much geared up to form the government in Punjab and BJP and others are scared," she said.
Defending herself in the case in which she was convicted and sentenced to a year's imprisonment, Asha Kumari said, "It has become fashionable to use the word 'land grabbing'. How can I grab the land which belongs to my father-in-law."
Kumari said the case was related to a property which was owned by her father-in-law and the tenants had forged some papers to claim ownership, which was challenged in court.
When asked if the controversy would have an adverse fallout for Congress in Punjab, she said, "Not at all".