Sidhu’s boycott from Amritsar mayoral polls extracts a ‘sorry’, but casts shadow on Jalandhar too
The rift had already come to the fore on Monday when Sidhu said: “Without invitation, I only go to the Golden Temple or other places of worship.”punjab Updated: Jan 23, 2018 21:06 IST
After councillors siding with local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu remained absent along with him from the swearing-in and mayoral polls in Amritsar on Tuesday, confusion took hold of Jalandhar’s councillors and district leaders, too, two days ahead of the city’s turn to choose its mayor.
The question is whether the party will go ahead with the contender considered strongest so far; or if a last-minute change will be effected to lessen the tension within the ruling Congress.
The name of five-time councillor and former leader of opposition in the MC, Jagdish Raja, 63, has been doing the rounds for the top post, but Tuesday’s turn of events have heightened the chances of another contender, Balraj Thakur, 54, who has the backing Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh from Sidhu’s camp. Four-time councillor Thakur had helped Pargat during his assembly election campaign, it is learnt.
Raja was chosen at a committee meeting led by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in the presence of state unit chief Sunil Jakhar and in-charge for Punjab affairs Asha Kumari, leaders privy to the proceedings said. The Congress won 65 of the 80 MC seats in Jalandhar, while SAD-BJP managed to secure only 12 seats (SAD 5, BJP 8) and the remaining two went to independents.
In Amritsar, meanwhile, the dissident councillors said the state government had disrespected Sidhu. The rift had already come to the fore on Monday when Sidhu, during a press conference at Amritsar, said: “I was neither consulted about the selection of mayors, particularly Amritsar, nor invited to take part in the ceremony. Without invitation, I only go to the Golden Temple or other places of worship.” He was not available for comment on Tuesday.
Rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who was made observer for the election of mayor in Amritsar, was present on the MC premises. MLA OP Soni announced Karamjit Singh Rintu’s name as the new mayor of Amritsar — the first Sikh to hold the post — after 68 of the 85 councillors were administered the oath.
Minister Bajwa apologises
Asked about Sidhu’s absence, Bajwa said, “I personally paid a visit to Sidhu’s house four days back to invite him, but he was not there unfortunately, and I returned. It is only a communication gap. If it is from my side, I feel extremely sorry for it.”
Bajwa said he had sent the party unit president of Amritsar, Jugal Kishore, to Sidhu’s home “but got no response”.
He added that Sidhu “must have his own programme to go somewhere”, and that “the whole department is Sidhu’s and he himself is the government”. “As per the decision of the Congress high command, the MC of Amritsar elected its new mayor. Sidhu had already said he would accept the party’s decision,” he added.
Mayor Rintu said Sidhu is “like my big brother” and that he will approach Sidhu soon as he is the minister of the department.
But the dissenting councillors, most of whom belong to Sidhu’s constituency Amritsar East, gathered at a hotel and expressed resentment. One of them, Sukhdev Singh Chahal, said, “After coming to know that Sidhu is not going to be at the MC meeting, we decided not to take oath as councillors for now. Sidhu had not demanded that he would elect mayor of his own choice! The government should have given due respect to our leader.” Damanjit Singh added, “Though Sidhu asked us to attend the oath ceremony, how could we? He was disrespected by the government. He is the most respected for us.”