Sidhu quits in latest Congress self-goal; told you: Captain Amarinder Singh

His resignation prompted an immediate “I told you so” from former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who described Sidhu as “unstable”; and embarrassed Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi
Former chief minister of Punjab Capt. Amarinder Singh arrives at Kapurthala house in New Delhi(PTI)
Former chief minister of Punjab Capt. Amarinder Singh arrives at Kapurthala house in New Delhi(PTI)
Updated on Sep 29, 2021 12:04 AM IST
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By, Chandigarh

Seventy-two days after he was appointed as Punjab Congress chief, and eight days after the state got a new chief minister, a move in which he played no little part, Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned on Tuesday, miffed at not having his way with some senior appointments.

His resignation prompted an immediate “I told you so” from former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who described Sidhu as “unstable”; and embarrassed Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, who together orchestrated Sidhu’s appointment and Singh’s exit as part of an effort to end factionalism and improve the party’s chances in next year’s state elections.

Only, as Sidhu’s abrupt resignation shows, the move seems to have managed to create more divisions in the party. Late on Tuesday evening, efforts were still on to get Sidhu, a former cricketer who once left an overseas tour in a huff after a spat with the team’s captain and flew back home, and resigned from Captain Singh’s cabinet in a huff in 2019, to change his mind.

“The collapse of a man’s character stems from the compromise corner, I can never compromise on Punjab’s future and the agenda for the welfare of Punjab,” Sidhu wrote in a short resignation letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi, appearing to take the party by surprise.

The move came on a busy day, politically, for the Congress. In Goa, former chief minister Luizhinio Falerio officially announced his resignation from the party and his decision to join the Trinamool Congress. In Delhi, the CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar joined the Congress and Gujarat lawmaker Jignesh Mevani extended support, and there was speculation through the day that Amarinder would meet senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders (which has since been denied by him). “He’s on a personal visit, during which he’ll meet some friends & also vacate Kapurthala house for the new CM,” said Raveen Thukral, Singh’s media adviser.

But everything was soon overtaken in importance by happenings in Punjab which have both made the already uncertain political situation in the state even more uncertain, and reinforced the perception that the Congress high command has bumbled yet again. Hours after Sidhu’s resignation, three prominent leaders close to him also quit their posts: cabinet minister Razia Sultana, general secretary Yoginder Dhingra and treasurer Gulzar Inder Singh Chahal. “Sidhu Sahab is a man of principles. He is fighting for Punjab and Punjabiyat,” said Sultana.

According to people familiar with the matter, Sidhu’s resignation was triggered by his unhappiness at multiple issues: the inclusion of Rana Gurjit Singh in the state cabinet, the appointed of APS Deol as the state’s attorney general, and Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota as the state’s DGP; and the allocation of the home portfolio to Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. Sidhu was already miffed at not being named CM, they added, and saw these as signals from the new chief minister Charanjit Channi that he (the CM) and not Sidhu was calling the shots.

Channi, once considered a Sidhu loyalist, said he had no information about the resignation. He (Sidhu) is our president and a good leader. If he is upset with him, we will sit and talk. I have full confidence in him,” said the CM. As night fell, newly appointed Congress state working presidents Kuljit Singh Nagra and Sukhwinder Singh Danny, along with some legislators reached Sidhu’s residence to request him to reconsider his decision. The chief minister also called an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning.

Politically, Sidhu’s exit makes the Punjab contest even more open than it was a week ago. The Congress in the state now has more factions than the two during the long and internecine fight between Singh and Sidhu. The Shiromani Akali Dal managed to escape farmer ire over the farm laws by exiting the National Democratic Alliance and breaking off with the Bharatiya Janata Party but the sacrilege case and the violence that followed still hang over it. The Aam Aadmi Party has avoided all controversies but seems to still be wrestling with a state leadership issue.

What next?

The Congress would appear to be caught in a bind. It cannot give in to Sidhu (although that is a possibility) without appearing weak; nor can it reach out to Amarinder who admitted last fortnight that he had been “humiliated” by the party. The former CM continued to take potshots at his bitter rival, who, till Tuesday morning, appeared to have won the tussle for control of the party.

He said Sidhu’s abrupt move suggested he was preparing to join hands with another party. “The Congress high command should immediately accept Sidhu’s resignation and appoint some competent man in his place,” he said.

Asked if he would back former state unit chief Sunil Jakhar for the job, Amarinder said, “He (Jakhar) is very competent and had performed exceedingly well as the party chief.” Jakhar had made way for Sidhu’s elevation two months ago, apparently under instructions from the party’s central leadership.

“ It’s just not cricket! What stands compromised in this entire ‘episode’ is the faith reposed in the (outgoing?) PCC president by the Congress Leadership. No amount of grand standing can justify this breach of trust placing his benefactors in a peculiar predicament,” Jakhar tweeted.

Senior Congress leaders said that Sidhu’s resignation had not been accepted and that negotiations were on. “I urge Sidhu to reconsider his resignation and in the same breath urge party high command to flag issues raised by him and find their redressal,” said senior leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira.

The Opposition tore into Sidhu.

“I had already said that Navjot Singh Sidhu is a misguided missile; no one knows who he would hit. He is full of ego and thinks himself to be larger than life,” said Sukhbir Singh Badal, president of the Akali Dal.

AAP said Sidhu couldn’t tolerate a Dalit leader as chief minister. “Complete and absolute state of anarchy in Punjab Congress. How can the people of Punjab expect these selfish leaders to give a stable, progressive and inclusive administration?” asked Raghav Chadha, AAP Punjab co-in-charge

The BJP, which has lost ground in the state on account of the popular opposition to the three central farm laws, blamed the Congress. “Punjab is paying a heavy price for the chaos that has gripped the Punjab Congress. The state governance has gone to the dogs. In the coming assembly elections, the people of Punjab would punish the party for the sins it has committed in the state,” said Tarun Chugh, BJP national general secretary.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    A senior assistant editor, Navneet Sharma leads the Punjab bureau for Hindustan Times. He writes on politics, public affairs, civil services and the energy sector.

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