In Punjab Congress, it’s payback time. Navjot Singh Sidhu is prime target
The chorus for the resignation of Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu grew louder on Tuesday as four of his cabinet colleagues demanded that he quit the ministry if he doubted chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s leadership, signalling a full-blown slugfest in the state Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha election results on May 23.
Sidhu, the party’s star campaigner, sparked a storm last week by his ‘friendly-match’ jibe at Amarinder, alluding to an alleged ‘secret political deal’ with the Badal family of the rival Shiromani Akali Dal. Sidhu had publicly taken a swipe at Amarinder for not acting against the Badals on the 2015 sacrilege and firing incidents during the Akali-BJP rule. Before that, his wife Navjot Kaur had accused the Captain of denying her a Lok Sabha ticket.
Significantly, Preneet Kaur, the wife of the chief minister and the party’s Lok Sabha candidate for Patiala, and Lal Singh, the head of the state campaign committee, also hit out against Sidhu.
Attack Hampers Congress Prospects
Leading a well-synchronised attack on Tuesday were senior ministers Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Shyam Sundar Arora and Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi. “If Sidhu doubts the integrity of Captain Amarinder and has no faith in his leadership, he should quit,” said Bajwa, adding,
“If he (Sidhu) is morally so strong, why is he sticking to his chair and working with a person he can’t trust?”
Calling the cricketer-turned-politician a “parachute leader” – an allusion to his previous innings with the BJP – Bajwa said that Sidhu has no experience of organisation building and is thus “repeatedly committing such mistakes that are hampering party prospects.”
Stung by Sidhu’s broadside, Amarinder was the first to vent his anger on Sunday, the day of polling in Punjab, by accusing Sidhu of ‘eyeing the chief minister’s chair’. The next day, three ministers, Brahm Mohindra, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot demanded Sidhu’s resignation from the cabinet and asked the high command to take disciplinary action against him.
So far, seven of Punjab’s17 ministers have come out openly against Sidhu, a clear sign of his growing isolation in the Amarinder cabinet.
The Captain’s loyalists say they are not expecting an immediate intervention by the party high command which will be busy with the poll outcome in the next couple of days. But, they insisted, they will not let the issue die down and will press for action against Sidhu.
The chief minister is understood to have submitted to the high command ‘evidence’ of Sidhu’s utterances against him. The Amarinder camp has dug up Punjab assembly records to show that Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur, as the BJP MLA from Amritsar never spoke about the sacrilege issue. “This time, the issue will be taken to its logical end,” said a pro-Captain minister
Upping the ante against Sidhu, Preneet Kaur said, “If he has problem with anyone, he should have taken it up with the high command instead. He has done wrong by making baseless allegations a day prior to polling,” she said in Patiala, adding “Captain Saab has no role in the denial of ticket to Navjot Kaur.”
Senior leader Lal Singh, who is the chairman of the Punjab Mandi Board, upbraided Sidhu for his “outburst at a wrong time”. “If the party misses the mark on its Mission 13 of winning all Punjab seats, it will be entirely due to Sidhu’s statements,” he said.
In a statement, cabinet minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi sought action against Sidhu for “his indiscipline and uncalled-for outburst” against the chief minister on the eve of parliamentary elections. “Sidhu’s statements show his rebellious attitude and eagerness to get the top post. This is totally unacceptable. In the Congress, CMs are not changed like this. Captain is the undisputed leader and will continue as the chief minister,” he said.
Punjab industries minister Arora appealed to the Congress high command act against Sidhu for his remarks against Amarinder. Arora said being a part of the cabinet, Sidhu is equally responsible for every government decision. “If he does not agree with the party line, he should resign,” he said, adding that Sidhu’s remarks had hurt sentiments of Congressmen.
(With inputs from Hoshiarpur)