Will follow any decision by Sonia Gandhi, says Punjab CM Amarinder Singh

Captain Amarinder Singh also avoided commenting on Navjot Sidhu, the cricketer and TV personality who is his biggest detractor with the party, and who seemingly enjoys the patronage of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, both of whom separately met Gandhi ahead of her meeting with Singh.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh speaks to media after meeting Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi, at her residence in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh speaks to media after meeting Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi, at her residence in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)
Published on Jul 07, 2021 03:30 AM IST
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BySunetra Choudhury, New Delhi

Congress president Sonia Gandhi met with Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday to resolve the crisis facing the party in the state ahead of next year’s assembly elections.

After the meeting, also attended by Congress Rajya Sabha member Mallikarjun Kharge, the head of a three-member committee that looked at dissent and differences in the Punjab unit of the party, and presented the chief minister with a 18-point to-do list, Singh said they discussed the development of Punjab and “internal matters of the party” and that he would follow any decision taken by Gandhi.

He also avoided commenting on Navjot Sidhu, the cricketer and TV personality who is his biggest detractor with the party, and who seemingly enjoys the patronage of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, both of whom separately met Gandhi ahead of her meeting with Singh. “I do not know anything about Sidhu,” Singh told reporters.

His comments seemed to suggest that Gandhi will take a final call on what is to be done in Punjab, including on a possible position for Sidhu who is keen on becoming the chief of the local unit of the party ahead of next year’s elections, something Singh is opposed to.

HT learns that an 18-point list was discussed at the hour-long meeting, and that Singh was told the party has to be united ahead of the election, and to be accessible to his party colleagues.

The latest round of troubles for the CM started in April with the Punjab & Haryana high court quashing reports submitted by the Punjab Police in connection with the Kotkapura firing incidents dating back to 2015, and asking for the constitution of a new special investigation team to look into the issue. The firing, which resulted in the deaths of two people protesting the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, is being investigated, and the new SIT has questioned then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal and his son and then home minister Sukhbir Badal in connection with the case.

The chief minister’s detractors allege that he has been soft on the Badals, slow to implement the party’s poll promises, and too reliant on powerful bureaucrats.

As the voices of dissent grew with some lawmakers joining the chorus, the Congress’s central leadership set up a three-member committee headed by Kharge to settle the discord. The committee met all the MLAs, Sidhu and the CM. Last week, Sidhu also met with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

According to a person aware of developments, while the Captain’s leadership was not challenged, Gandhi told him ”to take Sidhu into confidence’.’ The party is keen that they go into polls next year with both the CM and Sidhu having made peace and exhibiting “a united face’’.

It isn’t clear whether Sidhu, who has openly called Singh a “liar” and also targeted him over the power situation in the state and power supply agreements signed with private firms when the Akalis were in power, will be ready to go along.

Sidhu was not available for a comment.

It is also not clear whether Gandhi made any commitments to Singh on him being the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the elections. Sidhu left the BJP in 2016, almost joined the Aam Aadmi Party, then joined the Congress. Ahead of the latest controversy, the Congress seemed set to retain Punjab, although the damaging internal fight may have changed the equation now.

“The Captain’s position has been deliberately undermined whereas Sidhu has been given such a long rope. The right way should have been to ask captain to take immediate actions to try to fulfill some promises like power sector reforms, employment generation. Sidhu gets unnecessary focus. AAP would not take him. So the only way for him to float his own party and then make alliances,’’ said Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science in Panjab University.

A senior Congressman seemed to think the meeting had achieved enough.

“With this, we hope to have partially defused the situation,” he said.

There was no official comment from the Congress Party on the meeting.

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Monday, November 29, 2021