In Sidhu-Amarinder Tug of War, Congress High Command Takes Backseat Amid Tradition of Parallel Leadership
A miffed Sidhu, who sees the change of portfolio as a demotion, is busy camping in Delhi, hoping that the Congress high command turns the tide in his favour.
File photo of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. (PTI)
It has been a fortnight since Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s portfolio was changed and a new department was allocated to him but he is yet to take charge as the power minister of the state.
A miffed Sidhu, who sees the change of portfolio as a demotion, is busy camping in Delhi, hoping that the Congress high command turns the tide in his favour. He has skipped a couple of cabinet meetings and instead preferred to stay in the national capital. Sidhu has met Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi but is still unclear as to what has transpired during the meetings.
Unconfirmed media reports suggest that Navjot Singh Sidhu has put forth some conditions for joining the Capt. Amarinder Singh cabinet. The conditions, reports say, include either giving him the local bodies’ ministry again or making him the deputy chief minister, a demand which has been rejected. Sidhu now wants the state party chief post in addition to the power ministry, say sources.
Capt. Amarinder Singh had cited “inept” handling of local bodies department by Sidhu, which led to the party’s poor performance in urban areas, as the reason behind taking away the role. Besides, he also sent a strong message to Sidhu that his equations with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi could not insulate him indefinitely.
The cricketer-turned-politician too has made no qualms in hiding his bitter relationship with the chief minister. Just before he was stripped of his ministry, Sidhu had addressed a press conference in New Delhi and said he cannot be taken for granted.
Sidhu had said, “It is a collective responsibility. My department has been singled out publicly. One must have the ability to see things in the right perspective. I cannot be taken for granted. I have been a performer throughout. I am answerable to the people of Punjab.”
Sidhu’s tussle with Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh reached the pinnacle as early as the distribution of tickets took place for the Lok Sabha elections. Just ahead of polling in Punjab, Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu blamed Capt. Amarinder Singh for denying her a LS ticket from Amritsar, a seat represented by Sidhu thrice. The Punjab CM had denied the charges an instead questioned the timing of the Sidhu couple.
Navjot Singh Sidhu, even refrained from campaigning in Punjab, but for two rallies in Bathinda and Gurdaspur, that too alongside Priyanka Gandhi, where he made a “friendly-match” jibe against the chief minister. He had asked the voters to ‘take on those who had failed to take action against the perpetrators of sacrilege incidents in the state’, virtually hinting towards a collusion between Capt. Amrinder Singh and the Badals.
The rift became even more evident when reacting to Sidhu’s mannerisms, Capt. Amarinder Singh had said, “Perhaps he is ambitious and wants to be chief minister.”
Sidhu’s tirade against the chief minister earned him flak from several of his cabinet colleagues, who suggested that he should quit the party if he can’t work under Singh’s leadership.
The rumblings of discontent began as early as August last year when the former three-time MP had ruffled Capt. Amarinder Singh’s feathers after he chose to attend Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony in Islamabad. Sidhu had then created a furore by hugging the neighbour’s army chief. The CM too had disapproved of his hugging General Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying Sidhu had forgotten the sacrifice of Indian soldiers.
What is intriguing is the fact that despite being at loggerheads with Capt. Amarinder Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu has managed to stay afloat in the party. The Congress high command has chosen to remain mum on the issue more so because the party is facing a leadership crisis in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s decision not to continue as a party president anymore. Given this, no decision on Sidhu is expected in the near future till a new party president steps in.
Speculations are rife that Navjot Singh Sidhu could be offered a bigger role in the organization and he might be made the general secretary, but reportedly he has preferred to stay in state politics.
The Congress inaction against Sidhu seems to have its roots in the party’s history of encouraging parallel leaderships. The strategy was adopted first by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who always had a parallel power center in a state to check the chief ministers from becoming all powerful.
The approach had seeped down to the current leadership, and in every state where the Congress has a government in, the party has always propped up some loyalists, frequently in form of state party presidents who have always encumbered the chief minister.
Examples are galore. It is Ashok Gehlot versus Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, Jyotiraditya Scindia versus versus Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda versus Ashok Tanwar in Haryana, Virbhadra Singh versus Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu in Himachal Pradesh and so on.
In Punjab, state party chief Sunil Jakhar has not been able to rein-in Capt. Amarinder Singh. The chief minister has been calling the shots in the state and Jakhar has done little or nothing to challenge Captain’s authority. Further, by changing Sidhu’s portfolio, Capt. Amarinder Singh has affirmed his powerful position in the party.
Earlier, the chief minister has faced stiff challenges in form of former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Pratap Singh Bajwa, but has reigned supreme.
Meanwhile, after his recent drubbing in Gurdaspur, Sunil Jakhar too has offered to quit as state party president. Though his resignation is yet to be accepted, the chief minister, state party affairs incharge Asha Kumari and other senior leaders are pressuring the high command to reject Jakhar’s offer.
Captain’s becoming all powerful can be perceived detrimental to an extremely weakened Congress, and this also have a potential to embolden some leaders in other states. Whenever a new boss fills in the shoes of the national president, it won’t be a surprise if Sidhu is seen heading the state unit.
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