Jakhar’s ‘Captain for 2022’ triggers speculation over Sidhu’s rehabilitation
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar’s announcement on Monday that chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh will lead the party in next year’s assembly elections has triggered speculation that it was made to prevent efforts to rehabilitate Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu quit the state Cabinet in July 2019 following differences with Singh.
Jakhar’s announcement came four days after he launched the “Captain for 2022” campaign as the Congress swept the civic polls in the state amid anger in Punjab over the three central farm laws passed in September. The Congress’s central leadership generally makes such announcements.
The declaration came amid the talk of attempts to appoint Sidhu as the state unit president or re-induct him into the Cabinet as the deputy chief minister. Congress’s Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat, who has praised Sidhu’s crowd-pulling ability and usefulness for the party, has been dropping hints about an “important role” for him, particularly in the state unit.
Sidhu, who is known to be close to top Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, appears to be keen on heading the state unit ahead of the assembly polls. People aware of the matter said Singh has not been amenable to having Sidhu as the state Congress chief or the deputy chief minister.
“There have been efforts by the central leadership for quite some time to accommodate Sidhu, who also wants a position that gives an impression in the state party that he is next in line in the party’s succession plan, but there may be issues as he joined the party just four years ago. The chief minister has made it known that there are many other capable party leaders,” said a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
The relations between the two leaders have been frosty since Sidhu joined the party. Rawat has been trying to bring about a rapprochement and the two met over lunch over two months ago to break the ice due to his efforts.
Rawat said they have been working on it and things have become better. “But we have to take everyone on board,” he said, expressing hope of a positive development next month.
Sidhu and Singh were immediately unavailable for comments.
Ashutosh Kumar, a political science professor at Chandigarh’s Panjab University, said Singh is a strong leader and Jakhar’s move could not have been made without an understanding. “It is an assertion of Amarinder’s authority after the civic poll results to check an ambitious Sidhu.”
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