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Friday, July 20, 2018

Punjab government ‘ditches’ Sidhu, Congress high command backs him

Just before Sidhu joined the Congress, O P Saini, a party leader from Amritsar, withdrew two cases filed by him against Sidhu in December 2016.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | Updated: April 14, 2018 2:17:04 am
Navjot Singh Sidhu, navjot sidhu cases, navjot sidhu congress, punjab politics, punjab elections, punjab parties, sidhu cases When Congress came to power in the state and Sidhu was sworn in as Local Bodies Minister, his supporters were waiting to see if the party would make efforts to help him.

When cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections in Punjab, all eyes were on the 1988 road rage murder case against him. Just before Sidhu joined the Congress, O P Saini, a party leader from Amritsar, withdrew two cases filed by him against Sidhu in December 2016. One was a defamation case for Sidhu allegedly calling Soni a drug peddler and another challenging Sidhu’s 2009 Lok Sabha election in the High Court.

When Congress came to power in the state and Sidhu was sworn in as Local Bodies Minister, his supporters were waiting to see if the party would make efforts to help him. Punjab Congress senior leader Lal Singh is close to the family of the road rage victim Gurnam Singh, and there was an expectation that he could use his influence to get them withdraw the case. The victim’s family belongs to Ghalori village in Sanaur in Patiala district and Singh has been a five-time MLA from that Assembly segment.

But a year down the line, the family submitted a statement by the minister made to a TV channel 10 years ago to consider it as his confession. And on Thursday, in the Supreme Court, the Punjab government supported his conviction in the case by the High Court.

“Congress has ditched him. Our party should have stood by him. But it appears he has been left to fend for himself,” said an MLA from Majha. Sidhu is seen by his supporters as the only one in the party and government who was proving to be the a point of resistance to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, whose other baiters like Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Partap Singh Bajwa are not part of the government.

Sidhu’s voice lent weight to the clamour by MLAs seeking action against former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia for his alleged role in drug trafficking and and levy of tax on cable TV network owned by the Badals.
Sidhu has preferred not to criticise the Punjab government for its stand in the apex court. Speaking to The Indian Express at his official residence Friday, the minister said, “I am not astonished. Whatever has happened is out in the open. What do I have to say? I will not point a finger at anyone. I will only quote the dialogue of a Rajesh Khanna blockbuster here: Yeh public hai yeh sab jaanti hai. (Public knows everything.)”

He said he would submit to the law. “I will prefer to carry the burden on my shoulders. I was acquitted by the lower court. Everybody knows what transpired in 2007. I submitted to the law then. My conviction was stayed. I fought the election and won it subsequently.”

AICC sources, meanwhile, said the party high command had not taken kindly to the state government’s stand on Sidhu in the apex court. An AICC leader said, “It was shocking for a section of party leadership. We debated that when the government could file closure reports on Amarinder’s alleged corruption cases, why did they have to go all out to take a stand against their party leader. The high command is likely to intervene in the matter. Just wait and watch.”

Meanwhile, at a media event, the CM defended the Punjab government’s stand on Sidhu. He said the government had to take the same stand in the Supreme Court as it had in the High Court. “Had we [taken a different stand], we would have been accused of lying either now or earlier,” he said. He expressed the hope that the judge would take into account Sidhu’s “contribution to society and the country in the final verdict”.

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