Amarinder to attend Sidhu’s coronation
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh will attend a key ceremony on Friday where his rival and trenchant critic, Navjot Singh Sidhu, takes charge as the Congress state chief, his aides announced, indicating some rapprochement in the faction riven party months ahead of the assembly polls.
The chief minister decided to invite all Punjab Congress lawmakers and senior party functionaries for tea at 10am on Friday. “They will all then go to Punjab Congress Bhawan together from there for the installation of the new Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee team,” Singh’s media adviser, Raveen Thukral, tweeted.
The decision came after two newly appointed working presidents of the Congress state unit called on the chief minister on Thursday with an invitation to attend Friday’s event. With them was a personal appeal to Singh by Sidhu, who said he had no personal agenda.
“My resolve and commitment on Punjab’s issues and fulfilling high command’s pro-people 18-point agenda for the welfare of every Punjabi is well known to you and all,” Sidhu said. “Thus as the eldest of our Punjab Congress family, I request you to please come and bless the new team,” he added.
The development is a sharp reversal for Singh, whose aides had said as recently as Tuesday that he will not meet Sidhu until the cricketer-turned-politician apologised for his public attacks on the veteran Congress veteran. On Wednesday, Sidhu met at least 42 of the Congress’s 80 lawmakers in a show of strength in Amritsar.
The former minister was named state unit chief after a protracted two-month-long tussle for control of the party on Sunday as part of a broader revamp plan to end infighting and shore up the party’s prospects before assembly polls scheduled for early 2022.
Sidhu and four new working presidents -- Kuljit Singh Nagra, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pawan Goel and Sukhwinder Singh Danny -- will formally take charge at the ceremony at Punjab Congress Bhawan at 11am on Friday.
Congress general secretary Harish Rawat, who was part of a three-member panel set up to hammer out a resolution, will attend as the representative of the party’s high command.
“The 30-minute meeting was very cordial and the CM promptly accepted the invitation. It’s a party function and all are attending,” Nagra said.
Party functionaries said on condition of anonymity that senior leaders from Delhi spent Thursday calling up all state cabinet ministers and asking them to attend Friday’s function.
Four cabinet ministers already back Sidhu and attended his lunch meeting on Wednesday. Other ministers also signalled that they will attend Friday’s event. Key among the latter group were ministers close to Singh, such as senior minister Brahm Mohindra, who had earlier said he won’t meet Sidhu until tensions between the Amritsar East MLA and the chief minister eased.
After Singh’s announcement, though, Mohindra was more amenable. “I am in the party and will attend Sidhu’s taking over,” he said.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa said Sidhu called all MPs to be part of the function. “We all MPs are reaching Chandigarh for the function,” said Bajwa, who had earlier backed Singh. “No one has any thing personal against him (Sidhu)”, added Bajwa.
Tensions between 79-year-old Singh and Sidhu, who quit the state cabinet after the chief minister changed his portfolio in 2019, have simmered since 2019 but flared up in May after the government suffered a legal setback in a 2015 case of police firing on a crowd protesting the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
Sidhu quickly rallied support as leaders opposed to Singh coalesced around him and publicly accused the CM of enabling corruption, prompting the Congress to set up the three-member panel. The panel met around 150 functionaries – including Singh twice -- and submitted its report to party chief Sonia Gandhi on June 10.
On Sunday, Sidhu got the coveted post of state unit chief, a position that bestows significant powers to him in an election year. But Singh’s announcement on Thursday is the first sign that a truce, even if temporary, had been struck in the party.