Captain to lead poll campaign, buzz persists over Sidhu’s role
A much-awaited (and still awaited late Thursday night) announcement, lots of speculation, and meetings of the two rival factions -- these were the passages of play on a tense Thursday that was expected to see a resolution of a crisis in the Congress’s fractious Punjab unit.
As such, the day ended only with clarity on current chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s role. “Captain Amarinder Singh will continue as the chief minister. The party will fight the elections under him,” said Harish Rawat, the All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs .
Rawat is also one of three members of a committee set up to resolve the crisis in the party in Punjab where elections are due early next year, and where opposition to the incumbent CM has coalesced and grown around Navjot Singh Sidhu, a cricketer and television personality who has emerged a vocal critic of Singh.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi was to decide on Sidhu’s role, and there has been talk, a lot of it (including on Thursday) that he will be the next Punjab Congress chief. Specifically queried about Sidhu’s likely appointment as the new state unit chief of the Congress in Punjab, Rawat said the final approval of the party president is awaited. Rawat has previously termed Sidhu the future of the state. An announcement is expected as early as Friday.
Rawat’s comments intensified speculation about Sidhu replacing Sunil Jakhar as the state chief and the likely appointment of two other party leaders, a Hindu and a Dalit, as working presidents to balance the caste equations.This was one of the recommendations of the committee. The names of Vijay Inder Singla and Santokh Chaudhary are doing the rounds for the post of working presidents.
“The broad contours of the formula for revamp of the state Congress seem to have decided and the central leadership is trying to bring senior leaders on board before making a formal announcement to avoid a situation,” two state leaders said on condition of anonymity. The chief minister’s camp is closely watching the developments. Though there were reports that Captain Amarinder called up the Congress president to convey his displeasure and offered to resign, his media adviser Raveen Thukral denied these. “Media reports of CM@capt_amarinder resigning are humbug. He has neither quit nor offered to do so. He’ll lead @INCPunjab to victory in 2022 Assembly polls as he did in 2017. Urge media to stop speculating & spreading misinformation,” he tweeted.
The chief minister is opposed to Sidhu being named party chief in the state.
Meanwhile, the battle lines in the faction-ridden state unit became clearer with the two sides holding separate meetings. Sidhu held a meeting with some ministers and MLAs at cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa’s residence. Besides the two, cabinet ministers Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Charanjit Singh Channi, MLAs Pargat Singh, Kulbir Singh Zira, Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon and Barindermeet Singh Pahra were also present. “There were 9-10 ministers and MLAs. Since Sidhu happened to be here, we decided to meet. It was not a planned meeting,” one of them said on condition of anonymity.
Singh also met at least 15-16 ministers, MPs and MLAs at his Siswan farmhouse. Those who met him include cabinet ministers Sunder Sham Arora, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, OP Soni and Aruna Chaudhary, MPs Gurjit Singh Aujla and Jasbir Singh Gill and MLAs Fatehjang Singh Bajwa, Raminder Singh Awla and Harpartap Singh Ajnala, according to sources. An aide of the chief minister termed the meeting “routine”