Punjab leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been engaged in a war of words with Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, is likely to be appointed the chief of the Congress’ state unit, sources told News18, as the party makes all possible efforts to quell the infighting that has endangered its campaign for next year’s assembly election.
Party sources had earlier revealed that Sidhu was not keen to accept anything less than the post of Punjab Congress president or deputy chief minister, but that could create two power centres in the state ahead of the crucial elections. However, not giving the Amritsar MLA what he wants could also end up in Sidhu deserting the party.
This also seemed to play out recently when Sidhu praised the Aam Aadmi Party in what was seen an attempt to cozy up to the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Sidhu said: “Our opposition AAP has always recognised my vision & work for Punjab. Be it Before 2017- Beadbi, Drugs, Farmers Issues, Corruption & Power Crisis faced by People of Punjab raised by me or today as I present “Punjab Model” It is clear they know - who is really fighting for Punjab.” He also tagged an old news clip when he had resigned from the BJP and reports had indicated that he could join the AAP.
Within minutes of the tweet, the top brass of the Congress was left confused with some of them interpreting it as his subtle appreciation of the AAP.
“There are indications that giving him an important role in the party affairs was being resisted by the Chief minister, this tweet could be aimed at throwing some subtle hints to his detractors within the party,” a senior leader said.
Congress leaders in Punjab are of the opinion that making Sidhu the Punjab Congress chief will only result in more infighting when both Amarinder and Sidhu would want their favourites to contest elections. Since Sidhu is eyeing the CM post, he wouldn’t want Amarinder’s loyalists to become MLAs.
Two state Ministers close to the CM in Punjab told News18 that appointing Sidhu as the state party chief would further muddy the waters for the party in Punjab rather than resolve matters. “Going into the elections, the next tussle then would be over ticket distribution with both camps (Captain and Sidhu) seeking more tickets for their loyalists as Sidhu has Chief Ministerial ambitions and needs support of the MLAs after polls. Right now, even the CM’s adversaries do not support Sidhu for state president post,” one senior minister said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
This, the second minister said, would bring party factionalism out in the open during distribution of tickets, possibly delay the process and leave selected candidates ultimately with bare minimum time to campaign. One such glaring example of the same was in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 when amidst the tussle between Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle Shivpal Yadav who then had hold over the party cadre, Samajwadi Party’s ticket distribution took a long while and the campaign was delayed. Ultimately, a divided house in the party led to its crushing defeat.
“After the kind of words that have been said by Sidhu publicly against the CM, can you imagine both of them sharing an election campaign stage? The tension has in fact been simmering for long,” the minister said, pointing out how Sidhu while sharing stage with the CM last during the farmer agitation had said he was made to sit quiet for long by the party in Punjab. The CM has in fact made a case for Sidhu to be severely punished rather than be placated.
However, not accommodating Sidhu is something the Congress High Command does not want to risk as he remains a popular face in Punjab, especially on account of his aggressive stance against the Badals. Aam Aadmi Party’s announcement of having a Jat Sikh as its CM face in Punjab and AAPs past negotiations with Sidhu in the last elections has helped strengthened the case of Sidhu’s virtual indispensability before the party High Command.
The Congress has a history of witnessing political war between top leaders in a state, and more often than not, the party has paid the price for it. In Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot were fighting each other for the CM position in 2018. Congress played truce by making Gehlot the CM, and Pilot his deputy. Pilot also got the state party president post but his differences with Gehlot continued which eventually resulted in last year’s rebellion. Though Pilot mended his ways, he had to lose both his posts.
In Madhya Pradesh, Congress again preferred the senior Kamal Nath for Chief Minister over Jyotiraditya Scindia after the 2018 assembly elections. Kamal Nath also didn’t let Scindia become the state party chief to avoid a parallel power centre. However, the disgruntled Scindia ousted the Congress government by switching to BJP in March 2020.
Similarly, the differences between Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Kumari Selja cost Congress the 2019 state assembly elections in Haryana.