Amid an internal strife in Punjab Congress after AICC former president Rahul Gandhi’s three-day visit to the state, party general secretary incharge Harish Rawat talks to The Indian Express about the controversies, the gulf between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his former Cabinet colleague Navjot Sidhu, latter’s role in the party.
Excerpts from an interview :
After former AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s visit, the internal strife in Congress party came to the fore. How do you look at it?
Whenever a big function happens in a family, many issues come up. Whatever has happened in Congress, is within the family. There is no problem. There is no controversy.
There was an unsavoury moment on the stage between Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu during Gandhi’s show.
It will be totally unfair to Randhawaji to blame him for anything. I gave him the slip to hand it to Sidhu. We gave it to Captain Sahib and PPCC president Sunil Jakhar too to wind up fast so that the farmers do not have to sit in sun for long. But Sidhu has his style. Everybody knows him. They all know him well. When you love someone, everything associated with him is to be loved. We love Sidhu, we love his style.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh invited you for lunch on Wednesday. Was all this discussed?
We met on Tuesday as well as Wednesday. We keep meeting. Many things came up for discussion but mainly it was about how to take up farmers’ issues and how to get them the benefit of the MSP. We also discussed how a special Vidhan Sabha session has to be called and the legal aspects.
You have been saying party has a big role for Navjot Sidhu. Did you not discuss that with the CM?
Yeh baat jo hai, who Rahul ji tai karenge, Sonia ji tai karengi. Yeh unhi ka vishesh adhikar hai. Sab unki baat maanenge. (Only Rahul Gandhi and Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi can take that decision. This is their prerogative. Everybody will accept that decision.
How will you bridge the gulf between Amarinder and Sidhu?
Party ke andar inn sab cheezon ka samadhan hota hai. (Such matters are resolved within the party). But we will be able to solve this deadlock between Captain sahib and Sidhu sahib. Both have total dedication for the party. I have been speaking to both of them. Neither has any bitterness against the other. Captain Sahib always says Sidhu is like his younger brother.
But they did not show any bonhomie with each other on the party stage. Sidhu took CM’s name in the last and the CM did not even acknowledge him.
Naam kabhi kabhi miss ho jata hai. (One sometimes misses the names.) I missed PPCC president’s name on the stage the other day. I then apologised to him. We all know it was not deliberate. (After a pause) …Sidhu ji ne naam liya. (Sidhu took CM’s name). Sidhu has a style. People in Punjab admire him and love his style. There is no misunderstanding between both of them. I am repeating, Captain Sahib treats Sidhu as his younger brother. He says Sidhu belongs to his hometown. Sidhu says he respects Captain like his father.
In Congress a perception is gaining ground that former general secretary incharge Asha Kumari supported the CM solidly, even in his stand against Sidhu. But you are treading a different path.
She handled her part well. Then it was not the election time in Punjab. I have been named the incharge when elections are around the corner. Now the bugle of election has been sounded. Elections are like war. All these issues are to be sorted.
Is there a fear that Sidhu can go to any other party?
No. Sidhu is totally dedicated to Congress party and for Congress leadership including Rahul ji and Priyanka ji. Jis tarah se who Rahul ji our Priyanka ji ke baare mein baat karte hain, aisa sochna bhi Sidhu ka apmaan hai (With the kind of reverence Sidhu has for Priyanka and Rahul, just having a thought that he will quit Congress to join other party, is like blasphemy.) I had not met Sidhu earlier. I met him for the first time now. I had invited him to campaign in Uttrakhand in Lok Sabha election but he had not come. When I went to him, had tea with him, main ashcharyachakit reh gya (I was pleasantly surprised). He is an emotional person, who is governed by emotions for Rahul ji, Priyanka ji. He is in Congress with utmost sincerity. Woh unke (Rahul and Priyanka) baare mean bahut pyaari baatein karte hain.
The challenge at this juncture is to bring both of them together. How will you do that?
They both are personalities. I will try my best. Saada hunar, te baaki rabb di marzi. (My expertise, and rest is the will of God).
Will you be able to sort it during your current visit?
I will come again because it is difficult to understand Punjab and Punjabiat in one go. Things look simple but they are actually very nuanced. Let me first understand.
If party gives Sidhu an important role, would it not upset other leaders who have given their life to the party?
Everybody in the party is important. I became an MP along with Madhav Rao Scindia. But I took oath as a Union Minister with his son. Should I also complain? It is for the party to see whether to use and when to use a leader. I have been a grassroots leader, worked with the youth Congress, was elevated to district president, then to state president. I have been a general secretary, national president of labour organisation… I was hoping to become Chief Minister in 2002 but I was made the CM in 2014. Everybody has to wait for party justice. Those who have worked for the party, the party does not ignore them. They get accommodated sooner or later.
Can you give a timeline about when the changes will be made?
Sidhu is very useful. Elections are war like situation. He is like a Rafale. He is our weaponry. He will be utilised. If I disclose everything today, what will you write next time?
Is it again about using him in the election as he bled his throat out, criss-crossing the country, for Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Lok Sabha election? After that he was made to sit at home.
The party should have taken care of him. Leaders are not to be used and thrown. I will not let that happen in future.
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