Cong battle lines deepen in Punjab amid louder rumblings

By, Chandigarh
May 12, 2021 01:38 AM IST

Actions and statements of Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, cabinet ministers Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Charanjit Singh Channi in recent days points to the unrest in the party

Battle lines have been drawn deep in the ruling Congress in Punjab over the sacrilege and police firing cases with the party’s state president Sunil Jakhar throwing in his lot with chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa and other detractors digging in their heels on Tuesday.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh with former cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. (ANI)
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh with former cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. (ANI)

While Bajwa continued his anti-Amarinder tirade against the state government’s failure to deliver justice in sacrilege and police firing cases and on the promised action against drug dealers, cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi held a show of strength by organising a meeting of about a dozen SC and BC party MLAs at his residence here to discuss the “pending poll promises”. Channi has been uncharacteristically trying to bring together ministers and MLAs discontented over the state government’s handling of the emotive sacrilege-related issues.

His meeting, along with cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and some MLAs, with former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been attacking the chief minister non-stop for several days, last week had signalled the changing political equations in the party. Sidhu raised the issue of justice in the police firing case, stating that people of Punjab demand justice in one voice. “Alas! We are still awaiting justice,” he posted on Twitter. A number of jittery party MLAs have in the past two days warned the state government of consequences of its failure on this count in the assembly polls due early next year.

‘No one needs to worry’

Amid these rumblings of discontent, Jakhar, who was among the first to blame “lack of political supervision” for the legal setback and pressed for accelerated action on this politically sensitive issue, expressed confidence that the new special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the state government would take quick action under Amarinder’s leadership. “No one needs to worry. Things will be all right very soon,” the state unit president assured even as several Congress leaders are increasingly getting worried about the ongoing public spat between the top state leaders of the party.

An upset Jakhar had offered to quit his post about two weeks ago over the government’s shoddy handling. His statement, which came a day after three ministers and two MPs got together with one of them publicly hitting out at the CM after the meeting, is being seen as a relief for the chief minister’s camp. The CM and his aides, particularly advocate general Atul Nanda, have been targeted by Sidhu and other detractors, but most of his ministers have maintained silence so far. Only three ministers, including Brahm Mohindra, have come out in his support and sought disciplinary action against Sidhu for “anti-party” actions. In May 2019, seven ministers, including Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, had demanded Sidhu’s resignation from the cabinet for accusing the CM of playing a “friendly-match” with the Badal family.

SC, BC MLAS seek time from Capt

The MLAs, who met at Channi’s residence, have sought time from the chief minister to discuss the promises that were made to SCs and BCs in the 2017 polls and are still to be fulfilled. Besides Channi, others present were cabinet minister Aruna Chaudhary, Raj Kumar Verka, Balwinder Singh Laddi, Joginder Pal, Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal, Santokh Singh Bhalaipur, Harjot Kamal and Sangat Singh Gilzian.

The ministers and MLAs signed a two-line letter sent to the chief minister seeking a meeting. Sushil Kumar Rinku and Kuldeep Vaid did not reach, but gave their consent over the phone, according to two MLAs who attended the meeting.

Though most of the MLAs maintained that their meeting was only to discuss the pending promises such as loan waiver for the landless on the pattern of farmers and reservation in Group ‘D’ jobs filled through outsourcing, the sudden meeting for which Channi had made calls on Monday is being seen as “pressure tactics” amidst talk of changes in portfolios of ministers and induction of one minister to fill the slot vacated by Sidhu two years ago.

Verka, a known Amarinder loyalist, said that more than 80% promises had been fulfilled, but some were still unfulfilled. “Capt is our leader, and we are with him,” said the Amritsar West MLA even as the chief minister’s camp made continued efforts to reach out to the grumbling MLAs to placate them. Verka had also met Randhawa a day earlier. The MLAs denied that their meeting had anything to do the meetings Sidhu had with some ministers and MLAs. “Though the SIT fiasco is a matter of concern for all of us, there was no discussion on it here,” two MLAs said.


    A senior assistant editor, Navneet Sharma leads the Punjab bureau for Hindustan Times. He writes on politics, public affairs, civil services and the energy sector.

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