Navjot Singh Sidhu meets Gandhis amid Cong infighting

It was not clear whether Sidhu, who wants to become the Congress state president, received any assurance from the Gandhis. But the back-to-back meetings indicated that the Congress top leadership was still sympathetic to Sidhu despite his rebellion against Singh.
Punjab Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu leaves after meeting party leader Rahul Gandhi at his residence, in New Delhi on June 30, 2021(ANI Photo)
Punjab Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu leaves after meeting party leader Rahul Gandhi at his residence, in New Delhi on June 30, 2021(ANI Photo)
Updated on Jul 01, 2021 05:46 AM IST
Copy Link
ByHT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met the party’s Punjab MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu in meetings that seemed to suggest that the lawmaker, a trenchant critic of Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, has the ear of the Gandhis, although one party insider sought to explain the meeting as a “balancing act”.

It was not clear whether Sidhu, who wants to become the Congress state president, received any assurance from the Gandhis. But the back-to-back meetings indicated that the Congress top leadership was still sympathetic to Sidhu despite his rebellion against Singh.

Sidhu, a former cricketer and television personality, has been particularly critical of the CM in recent weeks, calling him a “liar” in a June 21 interview with Hindustan Times. That came amid growing dissent in the ranks with some Punjab lawmakers not happy at the free rein the chief minister gave his bureaucrats, the progress on implementing promises made ahead of the last assembly election in 2017, and the seeming lack of action against the Badals for their involvement in the sacrilege and police firing case dating back to 2015.

Between June and October that year, three incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, were reported in Faridkot district, leading to protests. On October 14, 2015, two protesters were killed in police firing in Behbal Kalan. On the same day, police also opened fire on protesters in Kotkpaura.

Elections in Punjab are scheduled for early 2022.

The Congress refused to spell out what transpired at the meeting but Sindhu tweeted that “it as a “long meeting” with Priyanka Gandhi.” He also put out a photograph.

In the evening, Sidhu met Rahul Gandhi, in the presence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The meeting took place a day after Rahul Gandhi said no meeting was scheduled with the cricketer turned politician.

Sidhu did not respond to calls and messages.

The meeting is especially significant because Singh, 79, tried to meet the Gandhis on his visit to Delhi from June 21 to 23, but could not do so. The chief minister’s office declined to comment on Sidhu’s meeting with the Gandhis.

That meeting was the second that Singh undertook to meet with a three-member committee set up by the Congress’ central leadership to resolve the crisis in the party in Punjab. The committee, headed by Mallikarjun Kharge came up with a list of recommendations, and a sort of to-do list for the chief minister. One of the members of the panel , Harish Rawat, also said separately that the party would have words with Sidhu on his criticism of the chief minister. It isn’t clear whether this has happened.

Sidhu wants to be made Punjab Congress chief, a post that will give him significant power ahead of the elections. Singh is averse to giving him such an important role. The former cricketer resigned from the state cabinet in July 2019 due to differences with the CM. There has been buzz that he could be considering joining the Aam Aadmi Party, but a senior leader of that party said on condition of anonymity that the party would not be interested -- not after Sidhu almost joined it after leaving the BJP in 2016, only to jump on to the Congress bandwagon in early 2017. Sidhu is believed to be close to both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, a proximity he has not been reluctant to showcase.

The Congress insider cited above said that the meeting was a balancing act. “The optics of general secretary in charge of UP meeting Sidhu underlines that the Gandhi family and the Congress values him but at the same time, the party also can’t afford to ignore the CM ahead of the polls,” added this person who asked not to be named.

“Sidhu appeals to young people, can bring a freshness in the organisation whereas the CM’s style of functioning has led to some anti-incumbency,” said a second Congress leader who too asked not to be named.

Last week, Rahul Gandhi met one-on-one with at least 20 leaders, including ministers, MPs and MLAs to get their version of the Punjab story. The three-member committee constituted by Sonia Gandhi said in its June 10 report that Sidhu be suitably accommodated in the state unit.

Sidhu also fended off criticism by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who told reporters that the former cricket was a misguided missile without control. “Today, Punjab doesn’t need a person who does acting but one who thinks about the development of the state,” Badal said.

Hours later, Sidhu hit back and accused Badal of corruption. “Until your Sukh Vilas built on Punjab’s ruins is not turned into a public school & public hospital to serve Punjab’s poor, I won’t relent!” he said.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Topics
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, December 03, 2021