At a time when the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is introspecting the party’s debacle in the general elections for a second consecutive time, all eyes are fixed on the possible outcome of the ongoing battle of supremacy between Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and state Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been challenging the authority of the former.
The war of words between the duo reached a boiling point recently when Sidhu, at an election rally in Bathinda, accused Amarinder of colluding with the Akalis. The firebrand leader, in an act that smacked of rebellion, went to the extent of saying that he would quit “if justice was not delivered in the Bargari sacrilege issue and guilty not punished”. His outburst had come just two days before Punjab votes to elect its 13 Lok Sabha MPs.
Amarinder kept silent for two two days. But on the election day, he came out all guns blazing against Sidhu. He said that the Local Bodies Minister’s timing was wrong and that if he wishes to “challenge” the CM’s job then “he should take it up with the high command”.
Soon after the results were declared on May 23, Amarinder blamed Sidhu’s alleged pro-Pakistan stand for Congress’ performance in the Lok Sabha elections. He also said that despite Sidhu being the minister of urban development, the party lost urban areas like Bhatinda and Gurdaspur.
The CM made it very clear that he would change Sidhu’s portfolio. Sidhu has not reacted since then. The CM too has not acted yet as he plans to seek a nod from the high command. On Thursday, Amarinder had said that he was confident that “not just Rahul Gandhi would agree for the action, but also Priyanka Gandhi, who was believed to have a soft corner for Sidhu”. If Amarinder had his way, Sidhu’s portfolio would have been changed well before the election. The CM had taken a dossier against his Cabinet colleague to the high command as proof of his non-performance but it was decided that the party should focus on Lok Sabha election instead of taking such actions.
After the Lok Sabha election, Amarinder has emerged stronger, with Congress bagging eight seats out of 13, in contrast with party’s poor show in most of the other states except Kerala. An astute politician, Amarinder is known for taking over his rivals rather strongly. The way he curbed the rebellion by his then Cabinet Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, during his previous stint as CM from 2002 to 2007, and managed to oust his bete noire Partap Singh Bajwa as PPCC president, despite Rahul throwing his weight behind the latter, it remains to be seen how he handles the rabble-rouser in Sidhu.
Both Bhattal and Bajwa had the support of many colleagues but Sidhu is ploughing a lonely furrow in Punjab. Except his former MLA wife, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, no one in the party has come out to defend him. On the other hand, the CM got support from a number of ministers. Luck has not been on Sidhu’s side lately, as his aggressive campaign in 61 constituencies could not pull votes for the Congress.
While Sidhu has maintained silence, his wife came out in his support Friday and said the Punjab Congress had done well in many major cities including Patiala, Faridkot, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and her husband could not be held responsible for party’s defeat in five constituencies.
The state government, meanwhile, has a dossier ready on Sidhu, on how MLAs complained against lack of development in cities and how he kept opening a front against the CM even when the election was at its peak. The dossier is to be handed over to Rahul Gandhi. It could not be done Saturday as the CWC went on for many hours. The discussion is to take place as soon as the party president is available, sources said. Amarinder is likely to camp in Delhi till then.
Amarinder and Sidhu have had a stand-off at several occasions in the past too. The Punjab CM had hit out at his minister for going to Pakistan to attend Imran Khan’s swearing in as Pakistan Prime Minister and hugging that country’s army chief. Sidhu had been publicly denying his differences with the CM, referring to him as a “father figure.” But he had once mocked at the CM with his “whose Captain? My Captain is Rahul Gandhi” remark. After that he spoke up against Amarinder in Bathinda.
Sidhu has been missing from Punjab and his office ever since the election results. All eyes are on the outcome of the battle between the duo. His fate in the Congress and Punjab government remains to be seen.