Masterstroke or a hit wicket? The jury is still out on Navjot Sidhu’s move to resign

The ruling Congress in Punjab has lately been busy in scoring self-goals as high command upstaged its regional satrap Amarinder Singh, installing Charanjit Singh Channi as his surprise successor
Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi with others during an event. The last week’s choreographed coup, was aimed at putting a full stop to the long-running factional feud and to shore up the stock of Navjot Sidhu.
Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi with others during an event. The last week’s choreographed coup, was aimed at putting a full stop to the long-running factional feud and to shore up the stock of Navjot Sidhu.
Published on Sep 29, 2021 02:50 AM IST
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ByNavneet Sharma and Ramesh Vinayak, Chandigarh

In the run-up to elections, political parties strategise as much to build their momentum as they do to forge ahead of rivals in the battle of perception. But, the ruling Congress in Punjab has lately been busy in a different game: scoring self-goals.

Barely over a week ago, the Congress high command upstaged its own regional satrap Capt Amarinder Singh as chief minister, installing a surprise successor Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab’s first scheduled caste CM.

That choreographed coup, in the reckoning of top leadership (read all-powerful Gandhi family) was aimed to put a full stop to the long-running factional feud and, more importantly, to shore up the stock of newly appointed Navjot Singh Sidhu ahead of the assembly elections slated to be held early next year.

But, on Tuesday, it was Sidhu’s turn to spring a surprise on his benefactors in New Delhi. With his dramatic resignation, a direct fallout of power tussle with Channi, the party’s calculations on capping the festering feud has come a cropper. Truth be told, Congress in the poll-bound state today stands split among three poles: one led by the high command-backed chief minister, the second behind defiant Capt Amarinder Singh, and third, now, spearheaded by Sidhu. “The Congress is proving to be its own worst foe,” says an exasperated party MP. “We are on the verge of losing the plot ahead of elections.”

Those in the know of Sidhu’s overweening temperament and Channi’s understated shrewdness are not surprised by turn of events in less than ten days the power equations changed in Chandigarh. Behind their public show of camaraderie was a cold-blooded jockeying for power. The cricketer-turned-politician pushed for his hand on levers of power – cabinet formation, portfolio allocation and key appointments. In fact, Sidhu’s overreach was so evident that Amarinder was quick to slam his nemesis for his attempts to play “ super chief minister”. Not surprisingly, Channi, with the high command’s hand holding, stood his ground, sending out a loud and clear message : That I am the boss. Implicit in Channi’s new-found assertion was his strategy to draw a clear line between the party and government and negate the impression that PCC chief was calling the shots in governance.

The competing power play came to a head over return to Channi’s cabinet of resource-rich Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit Singh,who had to quit the Amarinder-led ministry following allegations over sand auction scam and appointment of DGP and AG. Sidhu was livid over both issues which he, according to people close to him, derided as “compromises” on sensitive issues of sand mafia and sacrilege.

“Ethically, Sidhu is right” says one of PCC’s working presidents on the condition of anonymity. “ With such dubious decisions, how will the party face the people in elections” he added.

Even after Sidhu dropped the bombshell, neither Channi nor the high command has shown an urgency to placate Sidhu whose next move will be guided by the support he commands in the party currently mired in confusion and shock.

“The high command should not give in to this kind of politics or try to please him. If they do, it will undermine their authority and that of chief minister. There will be no end to it,” one of the senior-most party leaders said.

The chaos also saw Capt Amarinder, ousted from the CM’s chair to leave the field open for Sidhu who had the backing of Gandhi siblings, was quick with I-told-you-so tweet before advising the central leadership to accept his resignation and immediately appoint some “competent man” in his place. Whether Sidhu has stumped the high command or done a hit-wicket, the jury is still out on this critical question.

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