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Saturday, June 12, 2021

After Punjab airing of differences, worry for Congress: More harm than good

Sources said a large number of MLAs and some ministers told the committee, led by Mallikarjun Kharge, that the perception that the Singh government was soft on the Badals could damage the Congress.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: June 5, 2021 7:40:49 am
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh after a meeting with the three-member committee of the All India Congress Committee in Delhi on Friday. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

The three-member committee set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to hear the views and grievances of Punjab party MLAs and leaders wrapped up its five-day consultations on Friday with an advice to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to be more “accommodative”. In the process, many party leaders fear, the problems in the state unit might have got accentuated ahead of the Assembly elections next year.

Sources said a large number of MLAs and some ministers told the committee, led by Mallikarjun Kharge, that the perception that the Singh government was soft on the Badals could damage the Congress. Singh was also accused of being inaccessible, with bureaucrats running the show.

Now, party leaders are apprehensive of the impact of such venting of grievances against the CM. Particularly when even those who complained against Singh held him to be the best person to lead the party into the elections.

Sources said that in the last two days, panel members had specifically asked a “couple of people” about “who could lead the party to victory if not Singh”. On Friday, the CM and the panel also had a virtual meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Singh, in turn, is said to have carried dossiers on several colleagues to his meeting with the panel. A worried leader wondered whom this helped. “It also reflects on the CM, that if there was so much corruption taking place, what were you doing?”

A senior leader said while the talks might have been provoked by the stirring-of-waters by Navjot Singh Sidhu, that was not the main issue. “It is the perception that the Congress government is working at the behest of the Akalis.”

Another leader said, “Even accessibility of the CM is secondary. The Akalis are dominating with the connivance of officials and the CM is not able to fix that problem.” The leader added that the High Court order slamming the SIT probe into the Guru Granth sacrilege case had set the ball rolling.

Sources said Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar had even openly called one of Singh’s close aides a “spy of the Badals”, at a meeting in front of the CM and other ministers.

According to a senior leader, the general feeling was that while Sidhu leaving the party would be a major setback, his getting his due was not their concern.

On the other hand, the aftermath might linger, a leader said. “People who have complained against the CM… if they (the high command) do not do anything and again make them (work) together… do you think Singh is going to forget?”

Another leader said the exercise could have been done a year ago, and if it had to be now, it should have been left to AICC in-charge Harish Rawat, who could have met the MLAs in Chandigarh. “It would have looked like a routine exercise ahead of elections. We have made it a big show.”

As for Sidhu, while the high command is keen that he is rehabilitated, the course is not clear. Sidhu is said to be keen on becoming either the deputy CM or state Congress chief. A leader said Singh might now come under pressure to yield. “He may agree to make Sidhu Deputy CM.”

At the very least, a leadership change in the Punjab Congress and a revamp of the PCC might follow from the panel’s discussions.

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