The crisis in Punjab Congress showed no signs of ending Friday with the party high command apparently remaining firm on its decision to appoint Navjot Singh Sidhu as the PPCC president and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh writing to Sonia Gandhi expressing his strong reservations over any such move.
Sidhu met Gandhi in the morning in Delhi after which sources in the party indicated that his elevation as Punjab Congress chief could be announced later in the day. But there was no announcement.
Sources close to the Punjab Chief Minister, meanwhile, said he has written to Gandhi conveying his strong opposition and reiterating that a person from Hindu community be appointed as the PPCC chief.
Party’s in-charge of Punjab affairs, Harish Rawat, who was present at the meeting at Gandhi’s 10, Janpath residence, will fly down to Chandigarh Saturday in what is seen as a last-ditch effort to placate the Chief Minister.
While Sidhu did not speak to the media, Rawat told reporters he has given a note to the Congress president and the final decision will be taken by her. To questions on whether the party leadership has decided to appoint Sidhu as the PPCC chief, he said: “Who told you… I will let you know once a decision is taken.”
Sources said Amarinder, in his letter, has said that the elevation of Sidhu will upset senior members of the party in the state. He also said he fears a split if the party goes ahead and names Sidhu as the PPCC chief. Also, he said that Sidhu’s elevation will upset the Hindu community.
“How can two Jat Sikhs be in leadership roles… moreover, you are removing a Hindu and appointing a Jat Sikh as PPCC chief. It will obviously upset them,” a leader close to the CM said.
The incumbent PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar is a Hindu.
Lok Sabha MP from Punjab, Manish Tewari, who is considered close to Amarinder, interestingly tweeted the demographics of Punjab just before Sidhu met Gandhi. He said Sikhs constitute 57.75 per cent of the state’s population while Hindus and Dalits constitute 38.49 and 31.94 per cent, respectively.
“Punjab is both progressive and secular but balancing social interest groups is key. Equality is the foundation of social justice!” he tweeted, tagging the Congress and Rawat.
Another party leader and chairman of the Punjab Large Industrial Development Board, Pawan Dewan, sought to know the representation of the Hindu community on key posts in the state unit. “Punjab Congress president — Jat Sikh (if Sidhu is made state Congress chief). CM — Jat Sikh. Punjab Youth Congress President — Jat Sikh Campaign Committee Chairman — Jat Sikh Hindu kaha hai [where is representation from the Hindu community]?” he tweeted.
Sources said after Amarinder made it known that he is upset, Sidhu garnered support from at least five ministers and 10-15 MLAs.
Amid this, the presence of Amarinder’s OSD Narinder Bhambri at Gandhi’s residence, who reached there with an envelope just before the meeting between Congress president and Sidhu, fuelled speculation. The Chief Minister’s media advisor Raveen Thukral said Amarinder had on Thursday itself made it clear that he would not resign. The Punjab unit, however, was abuzz that he had threatened to quit.
Interestingly, Amarinder broached the Pakistan threat issue concerning Punjab once again and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking early resolution of farmers’ agitation.
He wrote: “The situation is presently under control, but I fear that provocative statements and conduct of some political parties and the emotional backlash might create law and order problems and also lead to irreversible damage to the hard-earned peace in the state.” He underscored the need for the Centre to address the “genuine concerns of the farmers”. Sources close to Amarinder claimed Sidhu’s 2018 visit to Pakistan and his “warm relationship” with Pakistan PM Imran khan could be exploited by the BJP in the elections.
Sources said with PPCC chief, the appointment of two working presidents, campaign committee chief, coordination committee chief and manifesto committee chief are also likely to be made.
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