‘Humiliated’, says Captain as he resigns as Punjab
- The development came amid a power tussle that divided the ruling party in the state, with Singh and Sidhu at loggerheads.
Punjab’s chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh became the fifth chief minister (across four states) to be pushed to resign, although experts said the Congress’ decision could end up hurting its prospects in elections early next year.
With under five months to go for the state elections, Singh resigned on Saturday after the Congress summoned a meeting of its lawmakers in the state, saying that he feels “humiliated”, but adding that he won’t accept newly appointed party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu as the next CM or the party’s face in the coming polls. Analysts said the infighting could work to the advantage of the Aam Aadmi Party, widely seen as the strongest contender in the state at this point in time.
The two-time chief minister submitted his resignation along with those of his council of ministers to Governor Banwarilal Purohit at the Raj Bhawan barely minutes before a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), widely seen as having been called to remove him from the CM’s post. The meeting was announced by the Congress high command late on Friday, and it appeared to catch Singh, who is the leader of the CLP, unawares.
The development came amid a power tussle that divided the ruling party in the state, with Singh and Sidhu at loggerheads. Sidhu was made the state Congress chief earlier this year despite opposition by Singh. Sidhu and several Congress lawmakers in the state have targeted Singh for not fulfilling promises made in the 2017 manifesto, being soft on the Badals of the Akali Dal , and an over-reliance on a small group of bureaucrats.
“I feel humiliated...this is the third time they (Congress high command) have called the MLAs. Apparently, they do not have confidence in me and didn’t think I could handle my job. But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair,” Singh told reporters after submitting his resignation.
Singh said he spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and told her about his decision to quit. “I have resigned and the (Congress) leadership can now make anyone it trusts the chief minister,” he said. However, there was no decision on his successor till late on Saturday.
CLP passed a resolution authorising Sonia Gandhi to take a decision in the matter. The names of Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, his predecessor Sunil Jakhar and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa were doing the rounds as possible contenders for the post.
Singh’s resignation came following a long-drawn tussle with Sidhu, four cabinet ministers and several MLAs. It also comes amidst fears that anti-incumbency arising from his style of functioning could hurt the party’s chances in he coming polls. The BJP effected changes in Uttarakhand and Gujarat recently citing similar concerns. While the process wasn’t entirely smooth -- especially in Gujarat, where the entire cabinet was dropped -- the party still managed to avoid making the changes the kind of public spectacle that has played out in Punjab over the past few months.
Asked about his future course of action, Singh said he would decide this in consultation with his supporters. “I have been in politics for 52 years. I am going to be here. In politics, there are always options. I will use that option when the time comes… At the moment, I am still in the Congress,” he said.
Before going to the Raj Bhawan, Singh was a huddle with at least a dozen ministers, MLAs and MPs, according to people aware of the development. He insisted that the MLAs attend the CLP meeting later.
In another interaction with the media, the Congress leader said he won’t accept Sidhu as the Punjab chief minister, describing him as “a total disaster”. The man who could not handle one ministry, can never run entire Punjab, he said. If Sidhu is made the face of the Congress for the Punjab polls, Singh said he will oppose him “tooth and nail”. He also added that Sidhu’s close association with Pakistan PM Imran Khan could end up compromising India’s national security. Punjab shares an international border with Pakistan.
Singh’s exit leaves the electoral battle in Punjab interestingly poised. The Shiromani Akali Dal has still not shrugged off the fall out of the sacrilege and police firing case, and its alliance with the BJP at the time the farm laws that have sparked a protest by farmers that is now into its eleventh month.
Between June and October 2015, three incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib took place in Faridkot district, sparking protests across the state. On October 14, 2015, two protesters were killed in police firing in Behbal Kalan. The same day, police also opened fire on protesters in Kotkpaura. Amarinder had promised strict action against those responsible for sacrilege and police firing. On April 9 this year, the Punjab and Haryana high court quashed the investigation carried out by the state police’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the Kotkapura police firing case. The state government has constituted a new SIT in accordance with the court order. The obvious beneficiary of the fallout of these cases, analysts said, could be the Aam Aadmi Party.
A Congress leader, asking not to be named, said Singh should have sent his resignation to the party president instead of giving it to the Governor in keeping with his long association with the Gandhi family and the party.
The CLP meeting was attended by 78 out of the 80 Congress MLAs. Besides Singh, Vidhan Sabha speaker Raja Kanwarpal Singh did not join the meeting because of his constitutional obligation. The resolution was passed in the presence of two central observers, general secretary Ajay Maken and revenue minister in Rajasthan, Harish Chaudhary. Harish Rawat, in charge of Congress affairs in Punjab, said that all the MLAs passed the one-line resolution requesting Sonia Gandhi to decide the name of the next chief minister.
The resolution was moved by Brahm Mohindra and seconded by the party’s Dalit MLA from Amritsar West, Raj Kumar Verka, the Congress’s working president and Urmur MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian and four-time MLA from Samrala, Amrik Singh Dhillon.
Rawat said a copy of the resolution has been sent through email to Sonia Gandhi and the decision in this regard is expected soon.
The CLP also passed a resolution hailing Singh’s tenure as the chief minister. The resolution in this regard was moved by Maken and was seconded by rural development and panchayati raj minister Tript Bajwa, who was among the first ones to revolt against Singh . “The party praised Amarinder for his tenure of as the chief minister. He tried to his best to serve the state under tough conditions the state was facing when he took over. He provided solutions to the problems the state was facing,” said Rawat.
Maken said he hoped that Singh will continue to guide the Punjab Congress, being the most senior leader of the party.
Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal said Amarinder Singh’s resignation is an admission by the Congress that it failed to perform in the state and has nothing to show for its tenure of over four-and-a-half years.
“The Congress party cannot hope to save its incompetent government and befool Punjabis with a mere change of face,” he said, and alleged that the entire state cabinet was steeped in corruption.
The BJP also termed Singh’s resignation a “failure” of the Congress in the state, and accused the ruling party of protecting “mafia raj”. BJP national general secretary Tarun Ghugh said, “The entire Punjab cabinet failed. The chief minister failed. Congress has failed in Punjab.”