Amid Punjab’s power tussle, Amarinder holds show of strength
People aware of developments said the dinner was hosted by Singh’s confidante, sports and youth affairs minister Rana Gurmit Singh SodhI, at his official residence in Chandigarh.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh held a show of strength on Thursday by inviting 55 lawmakers and seven MPs to dinner, sending a message to his rival camp in the factional fight that threatens to derail the Congress in the poll-bound state.
People aware of developments said the dinner was hosted by Singh’s confidante, sports and youth affairs minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, at his official residence in Chandigarh. At least 55 of the party’s 80 lawmakers and ministers and seven of 11 MPs attended the event, said the people quoted above.
“We invited like-minded MLAs and MPs. All those who were invited turned up and reaffirmed their faith in the chief minister’s leadership. We will win the 2022 assembly elections under him,” Sodhi told HT.
Singh’s rival, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, and lawmakers close to him weren’t present.
The dinner came hours after three ministers close to Sidhu -- rural development and panchayats minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, jails and cooperation minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and water resources minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria -- skipped the virtual meeting of the state council of ministers.
These ministers had travelled to Dehradun on Wednesday to meet Congress general secretary and Punjab incharge, Harish Rawat, to convey their “loss of faith” in the chief minister’s ability to fulfil poll promises. But Rawat made it clear that the 2022 polls will be fought under Singh’s leadership.
On Thursday, Rawat said he asked Sidhu to remove two controversial advisers whose statements on Kashmir embarrassed the party. “I have verbally communicated to the PPCC chief to remove them, making it clear that if he fails to do so, I will have to issue a written direction,” he said.
Sidhu’s newly appointed advisers, Malvinder Singh Mali and Pyare Lal Garg, faced flak earlier this week for their comments on Kashmir and Pakistan.
In a Facebook post last week, Mali had said Kashmir was a “country of Kashmiri people” and called both India and Pakistan its illegal occupiers. In a separate post, he put a sketch of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi standing near a heap of human skulls with a gun in her hand. Garg criticised Amarinder for attacking Pakistan over Kashmir.
Singh immediately condemned the remarks and called them “atrocious and anti-national”. Asked about Mali’s clarification that these were his “personal views”, Rawat said that his remarks were totally unacceptable, and no clarification was sufficient. “The Congress has nothing to do with him. He is not our appointee. He is not even a primary member of the Congress. On sensitive issues like Kashmir having national and international repercussions, the party will not accept any statement that is at variance with its view,” he added
Tussle for control of the party first broke out in May, and eased somewhat after Sidhu was elevated as state unit chief overriding Singh’s objections. But the fragile truce was shattered when ministers close to Sidhu said they lost faith in Singh and his government’s ability to fulfil election promises and leaders loyal to the chief minister demanded the ouster of Sidhu’s advisers over their controversial remarks.
Punjab goes to the polls early next year.