Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu being offered sweets by MLA Madan Lal Jalalpur as state cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa looks on, in Patiala on Sunday. (ANI)
Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu being offered sweets by MLA Madan Lal Jalalpur as state cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa looks on, in Patiala on Sunday. (ANI)

Navjot Sidhu to steer Punjab Cong with 4 working presidents

The four working presidents who have been appointed to assist Sidhu in the run-up to next year’s state assembly elections are Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra.
By Navneet Sharma, Chandigarh
PUBLISHED ON JUL 19, 2021 01:17 AM IST

Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi on Sunday appointed Navjot Singh Sidhu, 57, as the new president of the Punjab Congress, along with four working presidents, after weeks of speculations and wrangling in the state unit.

Sidhu has been elevated to the top party position in the state with immediate effect despite strong opposition from chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. The four working presidents who have been appointed to assist Sidhu in the run-up to next year’s state assembly elections are Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra.

The five appointments will pave the way for the revamp of the organizational set-up that was disbanded by the Congress president in January 2020. “Before the formal announcement was made, the Amritsar East MLA had already started reaching out to cabinet ministers, legislators and other senior party leaders and is expected to hit the ground running.

However, there is a feeling in the party that the announcement may worsen the rift as Capt Amarinder continues to be upset with Sidhu.

Though he told AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat, who was in Chandigarh to inform him about the changes, that any decision of the Congress president would be acceptable to him, Capt refused to meet Sidhu till he tenders a public apology for making derogatory remaks against him.

A former cricketer-turned-politician, Sidhu, a four-time MP, joined the Congress from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the 2017 state assembly polls.

Though he was inducted into the state cabinet as the local government minister, tourism and cultural affairs minister, his relations with Amarinder were uneasy from the start.

Sidhu quit the cabinet after his portfolio was changed by Amarinder in 2019 and went into a sulk before turning into a trenchant critic of the chief minister.

However, he continued to have access to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra which, according to political observers, has worked for him.

Capt opposed his elevation, citing his lack of seniority in the Congress and community equations as both are Jat Sikhs and belong to Patiala. He was advocating a Hindu face for the post. The Congress has tried to ensure caste and religious balance by appointing four working presidents.

The appointments also bear Rahul’s stamp as both Nagra and Danny were part of his team of young leaders in the state.

Gilzian, a three-time MLA from Urmar, belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and remained sore over the neglect of legislators from the community.

Danny, a first-time MLA from Jandiala, is a young Dalit leader with an MBA from London. His father Sardul Singh was a minister in Amarinder’s first tenure. Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Nagra is a Jat Sikh. He has been relieved from his present responsibility as AICC in-charge of Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura.

The fourth working president, Pawan Goel, is from the Hindu community. A lowkey leader, Goel, who hails from Jaitu, come from the family of traditional Congressmen.

He is presently chairman of the Faridkot District Planning Board.

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