Navjot Singh Sidhu a total disaster, says Amarinder Singh after ouster
Hours after stepping down as the chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh said he will not accept Congress’s state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu as the next CM and described him as “a total disaster”. Singh, however, remained tight-lipped on whether he would leave the Congress to start a new party.
Two-time chief minister Amarinder Singh put in his papers after speaking to Congress president Sonia Gandhi early on Saturday, barely five months before the state assembly elections are due early next year. “The thing is that this is the third time the party called the MLAs. You have an element of doubt on me... I feel humiliated,” he said, after submitting his resignation to Punjab governor Banwarilal Purohit. His reference was to a Congress legislative Party meeting that was called -- and without keeping him in the loop.
He said he felt sad and humiliated that his contribution to the state was not recognised and he had been misread despite having done the best for it, including on sacrilege and drugs issues. “Punjab has been doing so well in every sphere. I do not understand why the party felt the need to make a change,” he added.
The Congress currenlty has 80 MLAs in the 117-member state assembly.
‘Sidhu a threat to national security’
Terming Sidhu “dangerous”, “incompetent” and a “threat to national security”, Singh said he will fight “tooth and nail” against any move to make Sidhu his successor.
“Navjot Singh Sidhu is an incompetent man, he is going to be a disaster. I will oppose his name for the next CM face. He has a connection with Pakistan. It will be a threat to national security...,” Singh told news agency ANI.
“I cannot allow such a man to destroy us, I will continue to fight the issues that are bad for his state and its people,” he added.
Asserting that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is Sidhu’s “friend”, Singh told HT: “We have all seen Sidhu hugging Imran Khan and General Bajwa (Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa), and singing praises of the Pakistan Prime Minister at the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor while our soldiers were being killed at the borders every day.”
Sidhu hugged Bajwa during his visit to the country for Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony and faced criticism. Singh had then termed it as “not a nice gesture” and “completely avoidable”.
“The government of Punjab means the security of India, and if Sidhu is made the face of the Congress for chief ministership, I will fight him at every step,” he added.
Singh, who has been asked by the Governor to continue in office as chief minister till alternative arrangements are made, said Sidhu could never be a good leader for Punjab. “He is a total disaster. When he was a (Punjab) minister , he could not even run one ministry, now can he run the entire Punjab? I know that man has no capability at all,” Singh said.
A former cricketer-turned-politician, Sidhu, a four-time MP, joined the Congress from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2017 Punjab assembly polls. He was inducted into the state cabinet but shared an uneasy relationship with the then CM, which eventually culminated in him quitting after Singh shuffled his portfolio in 2019.
The CM had opposed his elevation as party chief, citing his lack of seniority in the Congress.
Tensions between Singh and Sidhu, simmering since 2019, heightened in May after the Punjab 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 and some leaders publicly accused Singh of 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 Gandhi on June 10. The panel recommended that Singh retain the charge but Sidhu be accommodated in a key role. On July 18, Congress appointed Sidhu as the president of its Punjab unit.
‘Not hanging up my boots’
Speaking after his resignation, Singh made it clear that he had no intention of quitting politics and said as an Army man, he has a lot of will and will remain active in the upcoming Assembly elections in Punjab.
“I am not hanging my boots,” he declared, reiterating that he will decide on his future course of action after talking to his aides, including Congress MLAs.
The leader claimed that he had himself asked MLAs who were supporting him to attend the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meet and the presence of a large number of legislators at the meeting did not mean they were supporting Sidhu. “Just a week ago, I sent to Sonia Gandhi a list of 63 MLAs who were supporting me,” he said, adding that MLAs usually respond to what they think Delhi wants, which was the case at the CLP meeting too. In any case, it is not possible to make all MLAs happy, he added.
Pointing to the sweeping victory by the Congress under his leadership since 2017, Singh said he failed to understand the decision to replace him.
“The people of Punjab were clearly happy with my government,” he said, adding that till three-four months ago, the tide was completely in favour of the Congress in Punjab but “they have cut their nose to spite their face and ended up from a winning to a losing position”.
Asked if he would remain in Congress, the 79-year-old said, “I can’t answer that right now.”