A statue of Ganesha at the entrance of the house, a tortoise on the floor and a laughing Buddha in the living room. The calm at Patiala residence of Navjot Singh Sidhu belies the storm that he has caused in Punjab politics by resigning as the state Congress president.
It has been two days since his resignation on the issue of appointment of ‘tainted’ ministers in the Cabinet and “compromised” state police chief and Advocate General. The house has become the hub of all activities with Congress leaders trooping in and holding parleys with Sidhu, trying to barter a truce with the state government. Electronic mediapersons throng the surroundings and have taken vantage positions at an under-construction building of a neighbour to peek into Sidhu’s compound.
Inside the house, Sidhu holds meetings with his trusted aides and brainstorming sessions with MLAs who support him. Since early morning, Kuljit Singh Nagra, MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib and one of the four working presidents of Punjab Congress, has been present holding discussions with Sidhu and charting the next course of action.
A set of rooms on the first floor of the house is the nerve centre of all these activities. The access for the visitors is through a spiral staircase, which looks like a fire escape at the rear of the house. The entry into the house is strictly regulated with barricades on the road leading to it and a posse of policemen guarding the way to it as well as the inner security cordon present inside the main gate.
Sporadically, a group of Sidhu supporters, who have been coming from across Punjab and largely comprise the youth, gather outside the house and raise slogans in his favour. A television reporter from a national channel, who is doing her ‘piece to camera’, can be heard loud and clear inside the house. “She can be heard on the first floor too,” says a Sidhu aide looking exasperated.
Soon another Congress MLA arrives to join Nagra and Sidhu in their deliberations. He is Surjit Singh Dhiman, an MLA from Amargarh. Dhiman is one of those Congress MLAs who raised the flag of rebellion against Capt Amarinder Singh very early this year and demanded that the next assembly elections should be held under the Chief Ministership of Sidhu.
It is not as if Sidhu is meeting every Congress leader that comes to his house. A Congress leader from another city is seated in the living room and then politely told that Sidhu would not be able to meet her as he is busy. “Assi vee supporter haan. Taa hee taan enni duur to aaye haan (We are also his supporters. That is why we have come from so far away),” she says pleading for a meeting with him but is met with a firm ‘no’.
The buzz in the house is that Sidhu is firm over his opposition to the appointment of DGP IPS Sahota and Advocate General APS Deol. “How can people who tried to frame innocent Sikh youth in Guru Granth sahib sacrilege case and those who represented former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, responsible for ordering firing on peaceful Sikh protestors, be allowed to hold positions of authority in this new government,” asks an aide.
A little later, as soon as he is free from the rounds of deliberations, it becomes quite clear that Sidhu is in no mood to budge from his stand. Looking calm and confident he tells this reporter that he has no plans of retreating from his stated position. “I will not give up. I will continue to fight for my principles and for the good of the state of Punjab. I am very clear about that,” he says with Nagra by his side.
Soon it is time for Sidhu to leave for his crucial meeting with the Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi in Chandigarh over his resignation and he drives away to loud cheers of his supporters gathered outside the house. As the media gathered outside rushes to follow his convoy and the cacophony reduces, a policeman at the house heaves a sigh of relief, “Hun thodi der shaanti ravegi (Now it will be peaceful for some time)”.