With the road rage case now all but behind him, Punjab’s Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu could emerge stronger within the Congress, the party to which he switched after leaving the BJP days before the 2017 Assembly elections in the state. His relations with CM Amarinder Singh have been combative and challenging since the beginning. In the run-up to the judgment, the Punjab government’s stand in the Supreme Court seeking stronger punishment for its own minister spoke about the tensions between Sidhu and the state Congress leadership.
While Amarinder explained several times that the state’s position in court pre-dated the Congress government and so could not be altered, Sidhu compared this to the closure reports submitted in corruption cases against political leaders, an oblique reference to cases against Amarinder dating back to the Akali-BJP government that the Congress government has sought to close.
With the case now over, said party insiders, Sidhu, who led the demand within the Congress for punitive action against the Akalis for their alleged misdeeds during their 10 years in government, is likely to become more vociferous.
Sidhu has been seeking action against a cable network linked to the family of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal for allegedly evading tax, and against former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, whose alleged acquaintances are being investigated in a drug racket.
Amarinder’s position is that he will not engage in “vendetta politics”. But Sidhu’s demand is backed by several party MLAs, especially the younger lot.
“Sidhu is only 55. The only threat to his career was from this case. He has been acquitted in that. He will have to be watched. It seems action-packed days are ahead,” said a senior Congress leader. After the judgment, Sidhu made clear his resolve to “serve Punjab with more vigour”.
He also made clear where his loyalties in the Congress lay, with AICC president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi. “I sent both of them a text that my life is for Rahul and Priyanka, 24X7,” he said.
But the way ahead for Sidhu is not going to be smooth. While even those in Congress who support Sidhu’s demand for a tougher line by the government against Akalis are wary of him. His recent recommendations for changes in the sand mining policy found few takers. And he has made no friends in the bureaucracy, with the constant transfers from the departments under him.