A day after he was divested of key portfolios in a cabinet rejig, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu remained incommunicado, fuelling speculation on whether he will take charge of his new assignment.
The cricketer-turned-politician spent a few hours at his official residence in Sector 2 with his close aide and Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh. The two leaders are learnt to have discussed Sidhu’s future course of action.
Sources close to Sidhu said he was mulling resigning from the Cabinet but may take a final call after meeting AICC president Rahul Gandhi. The party president was in Wayanad on Friday. Sidhu was not available for comments despite repeated attempts. His wife too remained incommunicado. Sources close to him said he would not speak to the media as of now.
Amid a tussle with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Sidhu was stripped of his local government, tourism and cultural affairs portfolios in the Punjab cabinet reshuffle Thursday. He was given the Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources Department.
The reshuffle, in which portfolios of most ministers were changed, took place hours after Sidhu skipped a cabinet meeting. Instead, he chose to address the media at his official residence on Thursday.
Since Punjab had a government holiday to commemorate the martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev, Sidhu did not join his department. Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, however, took charge and even held a meeting of the departmental officials.
Meanwhile, several leaders cutting across party lines are learnt to have suggested Sidhu to take charge of his department and take vital decisions including cancelling the controversial power purchase agreements under which the state government was bound to pay sustenance allowance to several private thermal plants even if their electricity was not needed.
AAP leader Aman Arora even wrote a letter formally asking Sidhu to cancel the PPAs. The Congress had made a pre-poll promise to cancel such agreements. Former Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh also said that Power was an important portfolio.
Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal took potshots at the change of Sidhu’s portfolios. “Interesting. Amarinder removes ‘sherryontop’ (Sidhu) from the local bodies citing his performance as the reason for the Cong defeat in urban areas in the Lok Sabha poll. And now Sidhu has been given ‘Power’ so that Sidhu can ‘perform’ and achieve the same results in rural areas,” Sukhbir said in a tweet.
On the other hand, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Aman Arora congratulated Sidhu for becoming the power minister, urging him to review three power purchase agreements with private thermal power plants signed by the previous SAD-BJP government. Arora claimed that it resulted in a financial burden of Rs 2,800 crore per annum on the exchequer.
An AICC leader said nobody knew what Sidhu was going to do. They were also watching him. “Sidhu should have attended the Cabinet meeting. There was no need for him to boycott it and then hold a parallel press conference hitting out at the CM. He is not only a personality in Punjab but also across the country. You cannot keep demeaning him,” said the AICC leader defending Amarinder’s decision to relive Sidhu of two key departments.
Sidhu had Thursday said that his department was “singled out publicly” for the Lok Sabha loss, asserting that he could not be taken for granted as he had
been a “performer throughout”. He had also refuted allegations that the party performed poorly in Punjab’s urban areas, saying of the 69 assembly segments where it won, 34 were urban.
The tension between Amarinder Singh and Sidhu escalated last month, when the politician was blamed for the “inept handling” of the Local Government Department. The CM had said that Sidhu’s “failure” to initiate any development work impacted the party prospects in the Lok Sabha elections.
Amarinder Singh had taken umbrage at Sidhu’s “friendly match” jibe during electioneering in Bathinda.
Sidhu had questioned the probe into the desecration of religious texts in 2015, asking why no action was taken against the Badals, who headed the previous government in the state.