A series of confabulations overnight (July 15) for a peace formula for the faction-ridden Punjab Congress came to naught as Navjot Sidhu plans to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Friday (July 16).
Media reports said Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is disinclined towards the Congress leadership’s reported move to promote his rival Sidhu as the state party chief. Sunil Jakhar currently heads the state party.
Both Amarinder and Sidhu separately met their loyalist MLAs. Sidhu was seen with six MLAs – three of them ministers — while the CM went into a huddle with other MLAs and MPs at his farmhouse in Mohali, near Chandigarh.
The signals emerging from the meetings were reportedly ominous: the Sidhu camp fearing a sack in an impending ministerial reshuffle threatened to resign en bloc.
The compromise apparently entailed elevating Sidhu as the state unit chief with two working chiefs – one from the Dalit community and the other a Hindu.
The war for intraparty supremacy has only intensified ever since the Amarinder Singh government came to power in 2017, ending a decade-old rule of the Akali-BJP alliance government. Since the Assembly polls are only months away, both camps are exerting the maximum pressure to gain an upper hand in the party as well as government affairs.
After the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, Amarinder made Sidhu a cabinet minister despite opposition from within the party. He was a new entrant and there were many seniors in waiting. However, they were ignored to placate Sidhu, who has remained dissatisfied throughout much of his four years as an MLA and a minister.
During this period, he also resigned as a minister and remained absent from his constituency and the state assembly for 18 months.
Sidhu, an MLA from Amritsar East constituency, believes that sacrilege cases and subsequent police firing during the Akali-BJP government in 2015 have not been properly investigated, as evidenced by the High Court ruling. The government’s loan waivers for farmers, too, have been overseen by bureaucrats, who have kept the ruling party representatives on the sidelines, Sidhu has said.
Though Amarinder has frequently said that he will accept the party leadership decision in the tussle, he is believed to be against giving a long rope to Sidhu, who joined the Congress in 2017 after leaving the BJP.
In the 117-member Punjab Assembly, the Congress has a massive majority with 77 MLAs, followed by AAP with 20 and SAD-BJP 18 MLAs.