After a months-long drama that played out from Chandigarh to Delhi, Congress veteran Amarinder Singh Saturday resigned as Chief Minister of Punjab, stating he was feeling “humiliated” by the party leadership and suggesting that all courses of action were open to him. He also made it clear that he would oppose any attempt by the Congress to name Navjot Singh Sidhu as his replacement, calling him an “anti-national” and “dangerous” for the country.
Consensus seemed to be emerging on Saturday night around Sunil Jakhar as the new CM, though the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) failed to reach a decision.
Amarinder’s resignation came minutes before the MLAs were to meet at the Punjab party headquarters. The emergency CLP meeting, ostensibly to remove him, was announced by Congress Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat on Friday night. Amarinder claimed he had not been informed despite being the CLP leader, and hinted that it was the last straw.
Amarinder later skipped the CLP meeting, which was attended by 78 of the 80 MLAs of the Congress. It passed two resolutions — one commending Amarinder Singh and the other authorising Sonia Gandhi to name the next CM. The CLP will now meet at 11 am on Sunday.
On who could replace him, Amarinder said, “Apparently they (the Congress high command) do not have confidence in me and do not think I could handle my job… Let them appoint whom they trust.” However, he added that he would never accept state Congress chief Sidhu, the vocal face of the revolt against him.
Speaking to reporters while the CLP meeting was on, Amarinder said: “Navjot Sidhu is an anti-national… He is a total disaster. He could not run a single ministry… As Local Government minister, he failed to clear files for seven months… How will he run the whole state?”
He said Sidhu was mixed up with Pakistan and a danger for Punjab and the country. “We have all seen Sidhu hugging Imran Khan and (Pakistan Army chief) General Bajwa, and singing praises for the Pakistan Prime Minister at the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor while our soldiers were being killed at the borders every day,” he said, adding that the ex-cricketer had attended Khan’s swearing-in even after he had categorically told him not to.
“The government of Punjab means the security of India, and if Sidhu is made the face of the Congress chief ministership, I will fight him at every step… I cannot allow such a man to destroy us,” Amarinder said.
While refusing to clarify his stand on Jakhar as CM, Amarinder said he had been “my PPCC president”. “I do not know why they removed him.” Jakhar had been replaced with Sidhu, in a bid to keep the peace in the Punjab Congress.
However, the high command may run into some hurdles naming Jakhar, who is considered close to Delhi. Punjab has never had a non-Sikh CM and minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa is learnt to have said at the CLP meeting that if the party wanted a Hindu leader, it should choose senior leader Ambika Soni.
The Congress though is hoping that the strategy of having a Hindu CM and a Sikh state chief might pay off. While Jakhar is not an MLA, that will not be an issue as the elections are less than six months away. Also, Jakhar enjoys a clean image.
Sources said Charanjeet Singh Channi demanded that a Dalit be named Deputy CM. A few at the CLP reportedly also favoured appointing Sidhu.
Amarinder claimed he had asked the MLAs supporting him to attend the CLP meeting, and the presence of almost the entire legislative wing didn’t mean they supported Sidhu (the only other absentee besides Amarinder was Speaker Rana Kanwarpal Singh; rules do not allow a Speaker to attend a legislative party meeting).
Rejecting claim that he had lost the confidence of the MLAs, Amarinder said, “Just a week ago, I sent to Sonia Gandhi a list of 63 MLAs supporting me.” He also said the MLAs usually respond to what they think Delhi wants, which was the case at the CLP meeting too. “In any case, it is not possible to make all the MLAs happy.”
Pointing to the wins by the Congress under him since 2017, Amarinder said he failed to understand the decision to replace him. “The people of Punjab were clearly happy with my government,” he said, adding that till three-four months ago, the tide was in favour of the Congress in Punjab. “They have cut off their nose to spite their face, and ended up from a winning to a losing position.”
After submitting his one-line resignation and that of his Council of Ministers to Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Amarinder told reporters, “I had decided to quit in the morning, and spoke to the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) at 10 am. I told her I am resigning.”
It was the third time a meeting of the MLAs was being held in the past two months, Amarinder said. “I am feeling humiliated… They called MLAs twice to Delhi, and now this third meeting. I feel they have no confidence in my working.”
Amarinder said he would decide his future political course in consultation with his supporters, who had stood by him over his five decades in politics. “There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes… At the moment, I am still in the Congress.”
Amarinder, who had called a meeting of his supporters at 2 pm, is learnt to have told them that he would accept the decision of the high command. Those who came for the meeting included Cabinet ministers Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, O P Soni, Balbir Sidhu, Brahm Mohindra, Vijay Inder Singla and Rana Gurmit Sodhi; apart from MLAs Ajaib Singh Bhatti, Rakesh Pandey, Ramanjit Sikki, Raj Kumar Chabbewal, Navtej Cheema, Tarsem DC, Rajinder Beri, Harpartap Ajnala, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa and others.
The MPs who were present included his wife Preneet Kaur, Ravneet Bittu, Gurjit Singh Aujla, and Mohammad Sadiq.
Asked if the BJP was an option for him, Singh said, “Do not ask me these questions. I am going to be 80 years old, I am fitter, I am a fauji (soldier), I have completed my task. If one task is over, I can take the other task.”
Singh claimed he didn’t know who said what about him to the party leadership. “I have not been going to Delhi much, but some people have. I did my duty. I have been a CM for nine-and-a-half years in all.”
On the charge against his government of not doing enough on cases over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, Singh said: “I constituted the SIT, senior police officers were arrested. I cannot take the law into my hands… This is my Punjab… I have done the best possible for the people of my state.”
Saying “people come and go in politics”, Singh added, “I have been in politics for 52 years and I will be in politics. I have resigned today but in politics options are never closed. ” He said he would not take his call immediately, but after consulting his friends.
“I have done so much for farmers. I have supported them in their cause.” He also said he had done a lot on the drug problem in the state.
On accusations that he had a quid pro quo with the Akalis, Singh said, “For 13 years, the Akalis booked me in various cases. I was sacked from the Assembly. I went to court.”
If he would speak to the high command, he said, “I have known Soniaji for 50 years, Rahul and Priyanka are like my own children.” He said this is why he did not expect to be “humiliated in this manner”.