IN A SURPRISE move at the end of a day where the Amarinder Singh camp got all the Congress Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab and several MLAs to plead his case, the high command Sunday night announced Navjot Singh Sidhu as the new PCC chief.
It also named four working presidents as a placatory gesture towards Amarinder, who fought fiercely against Sidhu’s appointment, before finally conceding and saying the latter should at least apologise publicly for his diatribe against his government. Finally, the top Congress leadership didn’t allow the Chief Minister either.
Amarinder was also ignored on the choice for working presidents. He had reportedly suggested four names for working presidents and PCC chief — Cabinet minister Vijay Inder Singla, Raj Kumar Chabbewal, Tarsem D C and Ajit Inder Singh Mofar.
In its choice, the Congress tried to even the scales as far as caste and religious dynamics go — one of the contentions of the Amarinder camp was that Sidhu was a Jat Sikh like the CM, and his appointment would alienate Hindus. Among the new working presidents, Tanda Urmur MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian is a backward class leader; Jandiala Guru MLA Sukhwinder Singh Danny belongs to a Scheduled Caste; former Faridkot district Congress president Pawan Goel is a Hindu; while Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra is seen as Rahul Gandhi’s ear to the ground.
While Gilzian has been publicly critical of the CM recently, Danny was considered close to him. Goel is the son of Congress leader Bhagwan Dass, who was assassinated during Punjab militancy. He had invited their ire by removing a turban from his head and tying it on then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during his visit to Punjab.
Following the announcement regarding Sidhu, incumbent PCC chief Sunil Jakhar cancelled a meeting he had called of MLAs and district chiefs Monday to pass a resolution urging the high command to take a decision soon. A similar meeting had been planned by the Punjab Youth Congress. The announcement on Sidhu initially was expected after the meetings, till Delhi pulled out the Sunday night surprise.
Earlier in the day, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seen as more sympathetic to the CM than Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, called up the state MPs who had come together for a meeting at Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa’s house, and had resolved to oppose Sidhu.
Sidhu himself spent the day travelling through the state to meet MLAs, including two in Amarinder’s stronghold of Patiala. Between Saturday and Sunday, he met over 40 leaders.
After Sidhu’s appointment, Jakhar said the Congress president had entrusted him with a great responsibility with six months to go for Assembly elections. “I am confident that he will come true to the expectations of the party as well as the people of Punjab and take everybody along.”
A former BJP leader, Sidhu joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, via the high command. Given this backing, it was always believed that Sidhu would get a significant role, though Amarinder ensured this would not happen. Incidentally, one of the people seen as instrumental in bringing Sidhu to the Congress was political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is running Amarinder’s campaign now.
Since 2019, when Amarinder divested Sidhu of his Local Bodies Department portfolio and the latter resigned, there has been open war between the two. Since April, Sidhu has been attacking the CM on Twitter.
The Congress leadership had set up a committee to look into the state unit problems, which saw Amarinder heading to Delhi twice to plead his case. While the CM was kept waiting for an appointment with the top leadership, Sidhu was given an audience.
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