Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. (HT FILE)
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. (HT FILE)

Kharge panel fine with Amarinder as captain, pushes Sidhu’s rehabilitation

The Congress president had dissolved the organisational set-up in Punjab in January 2020, but its reconstitution has been in limbo even though state chief Sunil Jakhar had sent the list of new office-bearers more than nine months ago.
By Navneet Sharma, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JUN 11, 2021 02:07 AM IST

The three-member Congress committee set up to resolve factionalism in Punjab Congress, which submitted its report to party president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday, is learnt to have suggested that chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh should remain in command and former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu be accommodated ahead of next year’s assembly polls in the state.

The panel comprising leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, AICC general in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat and former Delhi MP Jai Prakash Agarwal has also suggested a total revamp of the organisational set-up (read Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee) to give due representation to all social groups, particularly Dalit leaders, and take immediate steps to fill up vacancies in boards and corporations to accommodate party workers, a senior party leader familiar with the development said.

The Congress president had dissolved the organisational set-up in Punjab in January 2020, but its reconstitution has been in limbo even though state chief Sunil Jakhar had sent the list of new office-bearers more than nine months ago.

The committee’s report has summed up the views and grievances expressed by about 150 Punjab leaders, including present and former state presidents, ministers, MPs, MLAs and heads of frontal organisations during the interactions held in Delhi last week. The central panel was constituted by the Congress president to resolve the internecine war in the state unit. Tension had been simmering between Amarinder and Sidhu, who quit the state cabinet two years ago over differences with the former, for quite some time, but the cricketer-turned-politician and some other discontented ministers and MLAs upped the ante after a legal setback in the Kotkapura police firing case.

Though several MLAs and other leaders griped before the central committee against the chief minister’s style of functioning, lack of accessibility and over dependence on bureaucracy, a few including Sidhu, Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh and Amargarh MLA Surjit Singh Dhiman demanded a change of leadership. A panel member said the committee was constituted to talk to state leaders and find a solution to the ongoing squabbling. “It (committee) did not have the mandate to look at change of guard. Unlike the time when (Rajinder Kaur) Bhattal staked her claim during Amarinder’s first term (2002-2007) or other states which have two-three strong groups, no claimant has put forth his case for the chief minister’s position here,” said the member who did not want to be identified.

The detractors’ grievances have been included in the report along with the chief minister’s response.

The party leadership, which has been trying to find a way to accommodate Sidhu without rocking the CM’s board, is learnt to be considering the appointment of two deputy chief ministers, including Sidhu and another from the Dalit community. Though Sidhu may also be offered the campaign committee in-charge’s position, he seems to be more interested in heading the state unit, to which the chief minister has voiced his opposition on various occasions.

However, a senior state leader termed the committee’ suggestions as much ado about nothing. “Rawat was anyway trying to get Sidhu back into the state cabinet. Why did the party have to wash its dirty linen in public? In my view, (UP leader) Jitin Prasada’s sudden exit and the rumblings in Rajasthan Congress will have a bearing on the situation in Punjab and vice versa,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

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