Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday met the three-member Congress party committee for the second time in Delhi and clearly stated that MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu cannot be made the party president. He also said that Sidhu needs to be stopped from talking to the media the way he is doing now.
Assembly elections are set to be held in Punjab in 2022. For Congress, Punjab is the only state where the party has hopes of retaining power. The farmers’ protest that started in October 2020, made things easier for the party, with the Akali Dal, one of the oldest allies of the NDA, exiting the ruling coalition at the Centre in protest against the three farm laws.
As things were looking up for the party, Sidhu decided to wage a war against his own government. He alleged that the state government failed to fulfil the promises made in 2017, most prominent of those being sorting out the problem of drug abuse in Punjab and the failure to resolve the Guru Granth Sahib sacrilege issue. Perhaps in his sharpest attack, Sidhu also alleged that the Captain and Badal families are “working together against the interest of the people”.
Along with Sidhu, the murmurs of a couple of other MLAs, also attacking the present CM, reached the party high command in Delhi, following which a committee was set up comprising Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, along with Harish Rawat and J P Aggarwal.
The swiftness with which the Congress high command acted to resolve the rift between the CM and Sidhu has become a point of interest. In August 2020, Congress had set up a three-member panel after Pilot and his loyalist MLAs rebelled against the Congress government in Rajasthan. In 10 months since the panel’s formation, the panel hasn’t met for a single sitting. In the case of Punjab, the three-member committee met with all the party MLAs, MPs, spokespersons and ex-MLAs, and presented their viewpoints before the committee. The panel also submitted their report to party high command Sonia Gandhi.
The three-member panel suggested that Punjab’s CM should also be the deputy CM and the state president should be replaced immediately but both the leaders should be Hindu and they must belong to the Dalit community, keeping in view reach of Akali and Bahujan Samaj Partyin the state. Besides, Punjab has a considerable Dalit vote bank. The panel, in its second suggestion, stated that while there is some anger among the MLAs against the CM, they did not consider Sidhu to be his replacement.
The row between the Captain and Sidhu garnered more eyeballs as it is believed that Sidhu has the patronage of Priyanka Gandhi. If rumours in Delhi are to be believed, Sidhu is attacking the current CM with the backing of Gandhi.
Solution for Punjab
The Congress high command in Delhi now has the panel’s report and for the second time, a meeting has been held between the three-member committee and the CM, but no way forward has been found. The major reason for this is that Sidhu wants to become the President of Punjab Congress and Captain Amarinder Singh has clearly denied giving the post to Sidhu. Moreover, when Captain was presenting his case in front of the three-member panel, Rahul Gandhi was holding a meeting with the MLAs and MPs of the CM’s opponents in Delhi.
Even before this, Rahul Gandhi had taken complete feedback from the MLAs of Punjab through Signal App. It was then revealed that the Rajasthan cabinet minister, Harish Chaudhary, had been calling up the MLAs of Punjab and saying that he will soon be joining them as the general secretary of Punjab and will dethrone the CM. Some MLAs recorded the call and sent it to the present CM, who forwarded the recording to Sonia Gandhi, giving more precedence to the issue. Chaudhary has been Punjab Congress chief before.
Just like current CM of Punjab who is a Jat Sikh and hails from Patiala, Sidhu too is a Jat Sikh and comes from Punjab. Following the Captain’s refusal, the Congress High command is struggling to resolve the issue.
The party was ready to give Sidhu charge of deputy chief minister, but Sidhu refused. Even before Baisakhi, Prashant Kishor and Captain Amarinder Singh had called Sidhu, asking him to join the cabinet, but Siddhu refused. Despite efforts made on part of the Delhi high command, Sidhu hasn’t budged. His eyes are set on ‘Captain of Punjab Congress’.