In another jolt to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab, two Akali MLAs — Maheshinder Singh and Rajwinder Kaur Bhagike — joined the Congress in New Delhi on Tuesday. Maheshinder represents the Baghapurana assembly seat and Rajwinder is the sitting MLA from Nihal Singh Wala constituency.
Four sitting MLAs have already quit the Akali Dal, including Inderbir Bolaria, Pargat Singh, Sarwan Singh Phillaur and Avinash Chander. Akali MP from Ferozepur Sher Singh Ghubaya’s son Davinder and wife Krishna Rani have also decided to join the Congress.
Welcoming Maheshinder and Kaur into the party fold, Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh said this would help strengthen the party ahead of the assembly polls. He reiterated that the exodus of leaders and workers from the Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would further increase as the elections drew closer, especially after the imposition of the code of conduct in Punjab.
“Akali leaders who have changed sides by joining the Congress expecting electoral prospects will hardly make any dent to the party’s prospects in assembly polls. Such leaders were not sincere to the party,”Parkash Singh Badal, Punjab chief minister
Amarinder also welcomed SAD leader Pritam Singh Kotbhai and social activist from Phillaur Ajay Sharma into the party fold. Kotbhai lost narrowly to the Congress candidate in the last election.
“We can be their loyalists but not slaves. The insult meted out to me by sending police at my residence has hit me. They think they can terrorise me. I have quit the Akali Dal not for being denied a party ticket but because of the humiliation,” Maheshinder said after joining the Congress.
Meanwhile, prospects of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu of joining the Congress also brightened on Tuesday with Amarinder announcing he met the former BJP MP and said he was “inclined” to support the party. Indicating an announcement soon by Sidhu on his role in the Congress, Amarinder said the decision on whether to contest from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in the bypoll had been left to the cricketer-turned-politician.
The state Congress chief said while the decision on ticket allocation was the prerogative of party president Sonia Gandhi, he would be happy to campaign for Sidhu’s wife, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, if she gets the ticket for Amritsar East assembly segment. He added that all candidates for the 117-member assembly will be announced after December 8, for when the next meeting of the Congress election committee is scheduled.
Asked what does the former cricketer wants from the Congress, Amarinder said: “He doesn’t want anything. He just has to make up his mind on whether he would like to carry on with what he is doing or whether he wants to come...”
“...no assurance from his side, but certainly I feel the way he was talking, he would like to campaign for the Congress or work for the party. But this he has to announce himself,” he added.
On whether Sidhu will contest the Amritsar Lok Sabha by-poll, Amarinder Singh said: “That will be the Congress president’s decision. I don’t think he is interested.”
Sidhu had earlier represented Amritsar in the Lok Sabha. Amarinder won the seat in the 2014 general elections by defeating the present Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, but resigned from the LS membership on November 11 in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict on a presidential reference on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal.
(With PTI inputs)