AICC in-charge of Punjab Harish Rawat was quoted in media as saying that Sidhu could be made the party president and a peace formula to ensure that the cricketer-turned-politician and chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh were on the same page had been worked out.
The remark turned up the political heat among Punjab leaders opposed to Sidhu who view him as a newcomer to the party. While some started contacting the Delhi leadership over what was coming, those close to the CM as well as the GenNext leaders antagonistic to Sidhu were agitated. Rawat’s announcement came as a surprise for the Amarinder camp and leaders considered close to him made calls to party leadership in Delhi. A war of wits played out in public, with separate meetings of the CM with loyalists, while Sidhu called on dissident ministers.
Amid the heightened tension, Rawat, following a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the evening, mildly retraced his steps. “I didn’t say that Sidhu was becoming president. I was asked if he was, and I had said that a decision was being taken around what you are saying,” he told reporters. Amarinder has opposed Sidhu’s elevation as the party chief with dire warnings to the party brass of chaos, terming him as unpredictable and unreliable, it is learnt.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka arrive to meet party interim chief Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi, Thursday
Given the developments, there were rumours that Amarinder was resigning from his post, but his media adviser Raveen Thukral dismissed them as “humbug”. He was emphatic that Amarinder Singh will lead Punjab Congress to victory in 2022 assembly polls as he had in 2017.
As the party has been saying for a while that a decision was on the anvil, it is to be seen when a formal announcement is made and whether it is able to douse the raging fires in Punjab Congress.
What has complicated the issue in recent days are tweets by Sidhu alluding to Aam Aadmi Party, even if as part of social media warfare, with many viewing them as subtle warnings from Sidhu that he could bolt if his wishes were not fulfilled. Sidhu all along has been adamant about being made the state chief and has found a strong backer in AICC general secretary Priyanka Vadra.
Sources in the Congress management have, however, stated that any formula elevating Sidhu will have to have the chief minister on board. In view of Sidhu‘s strong attacks on Amarinder, it is felt that a sort of reassurance to Captain about future leadership and respect at the hands of the maverick politician would be required to bring about a meeting of minds. Without this ground work, sources said that state government and party leadership in Punjab will work at cross purposes which will only hurt the Congress and demoralise the cadre in the run up to the polls.
The duelling show of strength laid bare the faultlines in the state Congress. Sidhu held a meeting of anti Amarinder ministers and MLAs at the residence of cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. Those present included ministers Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Charanjit Singh Channi, Sidhu loyalist Pargat Singh and six MLAs.
On the other hand, about two dozen Amarinder loyalists including ministers, MLAs and MPs reached the CM’s farmhouse at Siswan in Mohali to take stock.
As part of the revamp formula being worked out, Congress may appoint two or three working presidents belonging to Hindu communities for social balance, with Sidhu as party president. Congress leaders also believe that the proposal to have two working presidents will help the party strike a caste balance and will also suit Amarinder, whose choices will also be considered for appointment as district presidents of the party. Otherwise, the plan to have Jat Sikh leaders at the top positions (CM and PPCC chief) had been opposed by a section of Hindu leaders of the party in the state.
Names of Cabinet minister Vijay Inder Singla and Santokh Chaudhary, Congress MP from Jalandhar, are doing the rounds for the posts of PPCC working presidents. At the same time, Amarinder could be named the chairman of the campaign committee and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa is likely to head the manifesto panel of the party.
Meanwhile, party leaders began expressing their acceptance of Sidhu’s possible elevation. Cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot said, “Not just Sidhu, if any Congress worker is appointed the party president, we will salute him.” Similarly, Amritsar (West) MLA Raj Kumar Verka said there had been no formal announcement so far on Sidhu but whatever team is decided by the high command will be acceptable to the state leadership.
Watch Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh unhappy with Navjot Singh Sidhu’s elevation: Sources