Updated: January 6, 2022 9:27:50 am
Barely a few weeks before the Punjab Assembly elections, trouble is mounting for the ruling Congress as Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Navjot Singh Sidhu has continued to send the party dispensation into a tizzy.
From openly hitting out at the Charanjit Singh Channi-led Punjab government on various issues to preempting the party in making a slew of poll promises, Sidhu does not seem to be in any mood to hold his horses.
With the 58-year-old cricketer-turned-politician remaining undeterred in an escalating game of one-upmanship with Channi, the problem for the Punjab Congress has reached such a head that four Cabinet ministers led by Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa met AICC general secretary K C Venugopal in Delhi on Tuesday to plead that Sidhu needs to be tamed or the party might end up paying a heavy price in the upcoming polls.
The delegation of ministers included Sidhu’s aide Pargat Singh, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Amrinder Singh Raja Warring. Fatehgarh Sahib MP Dr Amar Singh was also part of it.
They told Venugopal that unless Gandhis discipline Sidhu, he would continue to damage the party’s electoral prospects. Sources told The Indian Express after this meeting that the party high command “was in a way weighing its options with regards to Sidhu”.
As the Congress steps up its bid to finalise party tickets for the polls, it is grappling with the challenge mounted by Sidhu, who is pushing the party to announce him as the CM candidate instead of the “collective leadership” pitch that the party is making in its campaign. Sidhu is going around dropping hints in the media that either he should be declared the CM candidate or else he would not campaign for the party.
The AICC-constituted Screening Committee for selection of Congress candidates for the election to the 117-member Punjab Assembly, headed by party general secretary Ajay Maken, has been holding its meetings before the central leadership could take a final decision and announce the list of candidates. At a recent meeting, the Screening Committee finalised about 40 candidates. Over the last couple of days, the panel discussed some more tickets.
This has, however, not stopped Sidhu, who has already started announcing party candidates from various constituencies in the course of his meetings there. He even announced the names of two candidates—Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa from Qadian and Balwinder Singh Laddi from Sri Hargobindpur—both of whom subsequently joined the BJP. The Congress, however, worked on Laddi and got him back into the party fold a few days back.
Sidhu has also been claiming now that he would ensure that several sitting MLAs lose their tickets. Clearly, the party is bracing for a bitter showdown between Sidhu and Channi over selection of party candidates in several constituencies in the coming days.
“It would be better if the leaders are united while announcing the tickets. It is the unity which is the need of the hour. Once the warring leaders understand this, only then the party will be in a winning situation,” said a Congress leader.
The party, sources said, would ensure that tickets are given to candidates on the criterion of winnability.
“The party would not shy away from denying tickets to sitting MLAs. But then there is a threat of ignored aspirants defecting to other parties and denting Congress prospects. Already, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa and Balwinder Singh Laddi had joined BJP. While the party was able to bring Laddi back, Bajwa is sticking to BJP for now. The BJP is in touch with almost all our MLAs. They want to poach on whosoever is willing to join them. Then former CM Amarinder Singh’s party is also waiting for such MLAs with open arms,” a Congress source said, adding that it would be prudent for the party to wait for some more time before announcing the candidates.
Besides the CM, Sidhu has been locking horns with a number of senior ministers and party leaders, exchanging fireworks with them regularly. He has now attacked Randhawa, who is also Home Minister, for not arresting Akali Dal leader and ex-minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was recently booked in an old drugs case.
Hitting back, Randhawa rejected Sidhu’s allegation and said that the latter was upset with him ever since he was made the Home Minister. He even said, “If my brother (Sidhu) says that he wants the home ministry, then I’ll immediately put it at his feet. I’m ready to resign.”
Two more Cabinet ministers, including Rana Gurjit Singh and Bharat Bhushan Ashu, have criticised Sidhu for making poll promises well before the unveiling of the Congress manifesto for the Punjab polls, which is being drafted by the party’s Manifesto Committee headed by Partap Singh Bajwa.
On Monday, Sidhu made announcements pledging Rs 2,000 per month and 8 free cylinders to homemakers if the Congress is re-elected to power in Punjab. It created a furore in the party as the issue was discussed in a Campaign Committee meeting on Sunday and CM Channi had sought time from colleagues for discussing it with the Finance Department. Sidhu also went ahead and announced scooties, digital tablets and scholarships for girl students.
His announcement of freebies for homemakers also drew fire from the Campaign Committee chief Sunil Jakhar.
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