His name nowhere in the list of probables for the coveted position of Punjab Chief Minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has emerged a ‘surprise’ choice even as the names of Ambika Soni, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sunil Jakhar were doing the rounds.
A known Akali baiter, Randhawa’s family has had a long association with the Congress family. The traditional Congressmen had been close to Capt Amarinder Singh, but earlier in the year joined hands with his nemesis Navjot Singh Sidhu, and attacked the Captain over his unfulfilled poll promises.
Punjab is moving fast towards developments after Capt Amarinder Singh’s resignation as CM. A months-long infighting between Sidhu, who had earlier been elevated as the Punjab Congress chief, and three CLP meetings had led to the resignation. Captain said he had felt ‘humiliated’ at the developments.
Observers had earlier said Sidhu will not get a call-up despite his proximity to the Gandhi family. A Congress leader, however, had cautioned against dismissing the possibility of Sidhu being picked to succeed Amarinder. Speaking to News18, the leader, on condition of anonymity, had said that Sidhu will continue to call the shots as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief ahead of elections next year.
Now, after hectic talks to finalise the name of new leader of the Punjab Congress Legislature Party (CLP), Congress MLA Pritam Kotbhai has said party MLAs have proposed the name Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, to become Punjab‘s new Chief Minister. Meanwhile, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary and Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat and party’s central observers Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary have been camping at a hotel here, holding discussions and taking feedback. The central observers were also in touch with the party leadership in Delhi.
Two Dy CMs?
According to reports, the party may also go in for two deputy chief ministers in order to balance caste equations ahead of the Punjab assembly elections next year. If the party goes for a Hindu face as the CLP leader, then a Sikh and a Dalit can be made deputy CMs, sources said. This move is crucial as Dalits make up an approximate 33% Punjab’s overall population. Hindus are also an important votebank in the state.
The move is meant to assuage, as reports say many are upset with the way Congress’ has failed to handle the crisis. Meanwhile, the party legislators said they will accept whatever the party leadership decides on the CLP leader.
A Punjab CLP meeting, which was slated for 11 am on Sunday, was deferred as consensus was yet to be made on the name of the new CLP leader. Earlier, several legislators have gone to the residences of Jakhar and Randhawa to meet them.
Randhawa on Sunday asserted that he has never hankered after posts.
When asked that his name was among the frontrunners, Randhawa told the reporters that he or his family “never hankers for any post". “A chief minister remains (in the post) only till the time his party and people of the state stand by him," he said, in an apparent dig at Amarinder Singh.
Hours before resigning as the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, expressing anguish over recent developments and concern that they may cause instability in the state. Singh had on Saturday written to Gandhi, apprising her of his decision.
He said the political events of the last about five months were “clearly not based on full understanding of the national imperatives of Punjab and its key concerns."
“Notwithstanding my personal anguish, I hope this will not cause any damage to the hard-earned peace and development in the state, and that the efforts I have been focusing on during the last few years would continue unabated, ensuring justice to one and all," Singh wrote in his letter to Gandhi, indicating his apprehension of instability in Punjab as a result of the political developments in the state unit of the Congress.
At the same time, he expressed satisfaction at having done his best for the people as the chief minister of Punjab, which, as a border state, “has many geo-political and other internal security concerns, which I tried to handle effectively without any compromise."
He said he was happy that the state remained “fully peaceful, and there was complete communal harmony with no ill-will towards anyone".