Sidhu warns against power being curtailed; aide quits

Updated on Aug 28, 2021 01:40 AM IST

At the event, Sidhu also indirectly attacked Captain Amarinder Singh and his policies. “I neither take an oath nor do I promise, but I commit,” he said.

PPCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu addresses an event in Amritsar on Friday. (Sameer Sehgal/HT photo)
PPCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu addresses an event in Amritsar on Friday. (Sameer Sehgal/HT photo)
BySurjit SIngh, Amritsar/chandigarh

A combative Navjot Singh Sidhu issued a veiled threat to the Congress as one of his key advisers was forced to quit over controversial remarks on Kashmir on Friday, deepening the party’s factional crisis in poll-bound Punjab.

Sidhu’s comments came on Thursday night, hours after his rival, chief minister Amarinder Singh, held a show of strength with 55 of the party’s 80 lawmakers in the state. It appeared to be in response to party general secretary Harish Rawat asking the Punjab Congress chief to remove two of his advisers after their comments kicked up a row.

“I’ve conveyed to the high command that if I meet public expectations through the Punjab model, I’ll not let the Congress lose ground in politics for 20 years. But if you don’t allow me to take decisions, I’ll hit back hard,” Sidhu told a gathering of traders and businessmen in Amritsar.

“Without having the right to decide, being a mere showpiece is useless,” he added.

At the event, Sidhu also indirectly attacked Singh and his policies. “I neither take an oath nor do I promise, but I commit,” he said.

Rawat, who is also the Punjab affairs in-charge, downplayed Sidhu’s remarks.

“I will see the context in which Sidhu made these remarks. Mr Sidhu is the respected chief of the Punjab unit. Who else has the power to take decisions if not the state presidents?” he said.

Singh and Sidhu have been locked in a bitter war for control of the party in Punjab since May.

In June, the central leadership brokered a truce and elevated Sidhu to state unit chief overriding the CM’s objections. But the fragile peace was shattered earlier this week when leaders close to Singh and Sidhu publicly attacked each other, throwing the party in turmoil.

Since then, both leaders have moved to consolidate support with Sidhu loyalists even saying that they had lost faith in Singh. But on Wednesday, Rawat signalled his support for Singh, telling ministers close to Sidhu that the party will fight the 2022 elections under the sitting CM’s leadership.

At the heart of the controversy are the statements made by two of Sidhu’s newly appointed advisers, Malvinder Singh Mali and Pyare Lal Garg.

In a Facebook post last week, Mali 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”. Mali later clarified that these were his “personal views” but Rawat told reporters on Thursday that the remarks were totally unacceptable and that he asked Sidhu to remove them. Singh immediately criticised the comments and called them “atrocious” and “anti-national” but Sidhu remained quiet.

On Friday, facing increasing criticism both within the party and outside, Mali quit. “I humbly submit that I withdraw my consent given for tendering suggestions to Navjot Sidhu,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Mali did not term it as his resignation and claimed, in another post in Punjabi, that the question of his resignation did not arise as he had never accepted the post.

He alleged that Singh and other leaders ran a hate campaign against him.

A former government teacher, Mali was a student union leader who turned to journalism before serving as a public relations officer in the chief minister’s office under two different governments. Garg, a former registrar of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, is a known social and health activist.

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