The Congress victory in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is seen to have strengthened Navjot Singh Sidhu’s position in his troubled relationship with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
Just days ago, some Punjab ministers wanted him sacked from the Cabinet following his seemingly mocking remarks against Amarinder on the sidelines of the Congress campaign in Telangana. Far from losing his berth, Congress sources say Sidhu has now entrenched himself firmly in the higher echelons of the Punjab Congress, and after his campaign blitz in the five states where elections were just held, three of which the Congress won, is being seen as a valuable asset by the party high command.
A senior party leader confided that if the Kartarpur corridor success of Sidhu had given him the politico-religious leverage he needed to project himself as the next big leader of the Congress after Amarinder, his open declaration of Rahul Gandhi as his “captain” had earned him dividends in Delhi.
“Had Congress not fared well in these state elections, Rahul Gandhi’s image would have suffered a blow and Amarinder would have continued to enjoy his a special status of being the only Congress Chief Minister of any meaningful state. It would have been difficult for Rahul to oppose his decision on Sidhu. But now Rahul is in a commanding position and he would not brook any action against Sidhu,” the leader said requesting anonymity.
Another senior Congress leader said that the repeated downplaying of the Kartarpur corridor by Amarinder has also caused disquiet in the party ranks. “While there are security and diplomatic ramifications involved yet the manner in which Amarinder trashed the entire project just because it had the Sidhu stamp on it was not only distasteful but appeared vengeful. We must reap benefits of the move because ultimately the credit goes to the Congress in the state. Given the fact that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the self appointed Panthic guardians are in doldrums, we must not lose the opportunity to win the hearts of the devout Sikhs who still harbour a grouse against Congress for 1984,” the leader said.
On his part, Navjot Sidhu’s ambitions for a greater role in Punjab have not been hidden. He has openly said in the past that he had been promised the post of Deputy Chief Minister in Punjab by Congress leaders in Delhi. “He appears to be biding his time to make a move to mount a leadership challenge and it is unlikely that there will be any hasty effort on his part. Regardless of the recent statements against him by Amarinder loyalists there are many senior leaders who have assured him of their support,” said another senior party leader.
Within the senior leadership of the party there is a view that the last has not been heard on the Sidhu-Amarinder spat and that neither Amarinder nor Sidhu was likely to remain silent for long. “For now an uneasy truce may have been enforced by the party high command but matters will eventually reach a head. Amarinder is very competitive and does not take things lying down. And be sure that if he is able to repeat his Assembly electoral success in the Lok Sabha elections by making a clean sweap of the seats then he will strike back,” an Amarinder camp member said.