The Punjab cauldron is simmering. As Navjot Singh Sidhu gears up for his elevation as the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, the coming together of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Pratap Singh Bajwa, who have been at loggerheads for long, has added a dash of spice to the tussle and may leave a bitter taste in Sidhu’s carefully curated power dish.
Sidhu, who is looking to cement his position in the party, has met over 30 MLAs in the past two days, breaking bread with them at several occasions. The soft posturing is seen as a direct challenge to Captain, who has openly derided Sidhu — much to the chagrin of the Congress top brass.
To make matters worse for Sidhu, Punjab MPs from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will meet at Bajwa’s residence in Delhi on Sunday and then ask for time from Sonia Gandhi to advise her against appointing Sidhu.
So far as Captain is concerned, he made his stand clear on Saturday. “I am a fauji (soldier) and I never leave the battlefield”. With these words, Singh signalled to his supporters huddled at his residence on Saturday that he was not going to ‘give up the fight’.
With speculation rife that Sidhu is being projected to take over as the party’s state chief, the former cricketer spent the entire first half of Saturday cosying up to senior leaders from the state while AICC general secretary and Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat, barely a few kilometres away, attempted to placate a fuming Captain.
A day earlier, the chief minister wrote a letter expressing his ‘displeasure’ about Sidhu’s possible new role to Sonia Gandhi, claiming that the party would split due to Sidhu’s working style.
Meanwhile, the brief given to Sidhu was very clear: that he would have to take everyone along and this could also mean that he would need to reach out to the Amarinder Singh.
Congress sources said that the moment the CM heard that Sidhu would meet him, he told Rawat, who was visiting Chandigarh, that he was ready to make a statement that Sonia Gandhi’s decision on the prized post would be accepted.
However, he added that he would not meet Sidhu till the former cricketer and his bête noire apologised for his derogatory tweets and interviews, sources said.
He added, “the series of leaks and public statements which attacked me had done irreparable damage to the Congress party in Punjab and it was most unfortunate; the way Delhi was handling the state,” sources said.
Just a few days back, the Punjab CM had issued a statement that there was no question of him retiring. In fact, his hard stand has also forced the Congress party to clarify that the upcoming elections will be fought under his leadership.
The Congress has made it very clear that there was no question of Captain Amarinder Singh being replaced or asked to step down. Even as other political parties gear up for the 2022 battle, the Congress is stuck in a battle of its own; that the Captain cannot get along with Navjot Singh Sidhu, amid the former cricketer’s very clear ambition to eventually replace Singh.