Updated: September 18, 2021 10:41:35 pm
After a long spell of infighting in Punjab Congress, the party high command Saturday asked Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to step down from his post. This comes after Navjot Singh Sidhu, Amarinder’s bete noire, was appointed state Congress unit chief.
We bring you the reasons why the Captain was asked to go, months before Punjab Assembly elections.
Inaction on sacrilege, drugs, and the Badals:
Congress came to power in Punjab on the promise of wiping out the drug menace and bringing to book the accused in the sacrilege case. But even as four years have passed, the sacrilege cases continue to hang fire. The latest political row was triggered early this April by the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s clean chit to former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in the Kotkapura police firing on people protesting against the sacrilege at Bargari where torn pages (angs) of holy Sikh book Guru Granth Sahib were found on October 14, 2015. PPCC chief Navjot Sidhu, who’d been lying low after quitting the Cabinet in 2019 following a reshuffle in which he was divested of his portfolio, slammed Amarinder for mishandling the investigation, which was quashed by the High Court.
Earlier, the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, set up by Amarinder in 2017 to look into incidents of sacrilege, had clearly indicted the Badals for shielding the Dera Sacha Sauda but no action was taken.
The perception that Amarinder was soft on the Badals has proved to be one of the reasons for his undoing.
In the runup to the 2017 polls, Capt Amarinder had, while addressing a rally at Talwando Sabo, took oath on a gutka (a holy book) to wipe out the drug menace from the state within a month of taking charge. Though a large number of cases were filed against drug peddlers, the perception remains that the big fish remain free.
One of the major gripes of Congress MLAs was that it was impossible to meet the Chief Minister who surrounded himself with a coterie. It’s a charge that he faced in his previous tenure as well. But this time, it became more aggravated when he stopped going to the Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh altogether, and moved his residence from the city to a farmhouse on the outskirts.
The inaccessibility also made him unpopular with people used to sangat darshan (public audience) with chief ministers, be it the Akali Parkash Singh Badal or Congress’s Beant Singh.
‘Govt outsourced to bureaucracy’
Congress legislators across the state complained that the government was being run by bureaucrats. Soon after taking charge in March 2017, Amarinder appointed Suresh Kumar, a 1983-batch IAS officer as his chief principal secretary, a post equivalent to that of a Cabinet secretary of the central government. The appointment was subsequently quashed by the High Court and Kumar resigned, but the CM refused to accept his resignation and the government continues to appeal against the High Court verdict. In the absence of the chief minister from the secretariat, many saw Kumar as a power centre and resented his presence.
In the districts too, the general grouse was that the Badals had retained their clout in the officialdom. Congress MLAs complained that their concerns were not addressed by the administration.
The Congress party commissioned surveys by external agencies in Punjab, and found that the CM’s popularity had waned, putting a question mark on his ability to steer the party to victory in the 2022 assembly elections.
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The numbers game
The dissidents led by PPCC chief Navjot Sidhu and the Majha brigade of three ministers — Tript Rajnder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Sarkaria and Sukhjinder Randhawa — managed to rally together the majority of legislators against the CM. On several occasions, they sent letters to the high command and even sought an audience with Sonia Gandhi. Though the high command appointed Sidhu as the PPCC chief in July after the three-member Kharge panel met all the legislators in June, the two camps could not work together. The last straw was a letter signed by over 40 legislators and four ministers to Sonia on Wednesday, seeking a CLP meeting.
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