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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Tension in Punjab Congress as Navjot Singh Sidhu meets ministers, MLAs

Sources said Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had been openly critical of the Chief Minister, had meetings with a couple of ministers and some MLAs to plan their strategy.

Written by Manoj C G , Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh, New Delhi |
Updated: May 8, 2021 1:52:53 pm
Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu (Express Photo: Jaipal Singh, File)

With barely a year left for Assembly elections in Punjab, there is uneasiness in the state’s Congress unit, with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s detractors planning to open a front against him. Sources said Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had been openly critical of the Chief Minister, had meetings with a couple of ministers and some MLAs to plan their strategy.

So far, Sidhu has been waging a lonely battle against Amarinder, though former PCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shamsher Singh Dullo too have been taking pot-shots at him.

However, sources said that Sidhu had a meeting with at least two ministers — Cooperation and Jails Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa and Technical Education, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister Charanjit Channi. In attendance were also said to be some MLAs – Partap Singh Bajwa’s brother Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, along with Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon, Balwinder Laddi and Barindermeet Singh Pahra.

The group is said to have decided to mount pressure on the Chief Minister to bring to book the perpetrators of the Bargari sacrilege case and the subsequent police firing cases of Kotkapura and initiate a clamp down on the alleged drug mafia. These leaders say these two issues were the main poll promises of the Congress in the last Assembly elections.

Randhawa is said to be miffed with Amarinder after the CM picked on him at a Cabinet meeting called to discuss the sacrilege case. Randhawa had written his resignation on a piece of paper during the meeting and handed it to Amarinder, who tore it.

Since then, sources said, a group of 38 MLAs and ministers came together with a motive to “impress upon the party high command that people of Punjab were upset with the Congress government for not delivering justice in sacrilege case, bringing big fish to book in drugs issue, failing to make electricity cheaper, and that a perception had four a strong footing in the minds of people that there was a quid-pro-quo between Congress and the Akalis”.

A senior Congress leader told The Indian Express, “The government has been soft peddling on the sacrilege case. The Chief Minister had promised to bring to book those involved in the sacrilege case and the police officers responsible for the police firing. The Akali Dal government lost power because of that issue. Amarinder had also promised to crack down on the mafia… We had targeted the Badals on both these issues… Now, how will our MLAs go to the people to seek votes if no action is taken on both these issues?”

Sources said PPCC chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar is not a part of the group at present.

In the coming days, party MP Ravneet Singh Bittu may hold a meeting with a few members of the newly-formed group. “We will not create indiscipline by going against our government openly. But we will have strength on our side and we will take it up with the high command that we need to break the perception of quid pro quo, otherwise the party will be finished in Punjab as in other states. Here, we still have hope,” a party leader said.

Meanwhile, Bajwa senior wrote to Amarinder, saying he was “saddened” that no meeting has been called with Punjab MPs to discuss the cases of sacrilege and police firing and violence at Bargari, Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura after an earlier meeting was cancelled.

Referring to the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s recent criticism of the SIT probing the Kotkapura firing case, and absolving then CM Parkash Singh Badal of allegations of conspiracy, Bajwa wrote, “The recent High Court verdict is a major setback towards ensuring that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice, as this issue is of great sentimental significance to the people of the State. A meeting with the Members of Parliament to discuss this issue was called on May 4 but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he wrote.

“I understand the seriousness of the pandemic and keeping this in mind, I did not raise the issue at the meeting you had called to discuss the Covid-19 situation in the State yesterday. The pandemic is a matter of life and the sacrilege cases are a matter of our identity. We cannot forget our promises to the people of Punjab. I request you to call for a threadbare discussion (either physical or virtual) with the Members of Parliament from the Indian National Congress so as to ensure a viable plan of action can be formulated at the earliest.”

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