In Punjab, it is said, nothing is sealed or forgiven without a Jhappi (bear hug) or a younger person touching an elder’s feet for blessings. The uneasy truce between Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and new state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu was not certainly marked by a bear hug, while one won’t know if the CM gave his blessings after Sidhu touched his feet.
In Delhi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said all is now well in the Punjab Congress, but the same will be put to a test soon when tickets are distributed for the elections as the question over who will be the next chief minister, if the Congress wins, has been left hanging in the air.
The way Sidhu has been appointed as the state party chief against Amarinder’s wishes, and he being forced into meeting Sidhu despite his public proclamation two days ago that he won’t budge until Sidhu publicly apologises to him, shows Sidhu is in pole position for the CM’s chair ahead of 79-year-old Captain. Sidhu’s poll campaign for the 2022 Punjab elections is also expected to revolve around delivering on the promises which Captain could not, as was clear from his maiden speech.
But Captain, a veteran of many political battles, is not the one to throw in the towel so soon. His camp knows that who becomes the next CM depends not just on the party high command, but also whom the majority of the winning MLAs support after polls. Sidhu knows the same too and though he may have the high command’s backing, he would want his supporters to get maximum tickets to back his case for the CM’s post.
As the state Congress chief, Sidhu’s word in tickets would matter but Captain, also the party legislature leader, will have his say too.
The Cold Vibes
The uneasy equation was visible through cold vibes between both leaders on Friday. The CM had invited all MLAs and senior leaders for a tea party at 10 am at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh but Sidhu was absent when the CM sat on the table with other leaders. Sidhu had to be called back to the venue where he bowed in respect to the CM from across the table and said it was a pleasure to see him.
He then told the CM he was away to make an ardaas (prayer) before senior Congress leaders asked Sidhu to come and sit next to the CM and a photo-op was done. The CM kept pointing to his watch as he spoke to Sidhu, indicating they were running late for the main programme at the Congress Bhawan at 11am.
At Congress Bhawan, Sidhu touched the CM’s feet when he arrived. The two leaders sat side-by-side, but hardly any words were exchanged. The venue was plastered with big posters of Sidhu and a rapturous cadre that rooted for Sidhu and even heckled the outgoing state congress chief, Sunil Jakhar, during the latter’s speech.
Amarinder sent a message of his own weight when he pointed out that he had entered the Army the year Sidhu was born, but congratulated Sidhu for his new post and reminded all that Sidhu’s father guided him into politics and he had been to Sidhu’s house. In the middle of his speech, he looked at Sidhu and asked him to listen in.
Sidhu, on his turn to speak, stood up to play a cricket shot and marched to the podium without looking at the CM, but touched the feet of former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and senior leader Lal Singh before taking the mike.
The Words Give It Away
Sidhu’s speech made it clear that his election campaign would revolve around delivering on issues which Captain could not — like lowering electricity rates and scrapping the private power purchase agreements, delivering justice in the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015 and upping the morale of the young cadre of the Congress that is rooting for Sidhu.
In his only reference to Captain in his entire speech, Sidhu gave out his message to him: “These are issues, CM Sir, we have to resolve these issues. A position is not the issue. I have given up many posts. The main issue is our farmers, who are sitting on the roads in protest.”
The Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party later said Sidhu’s speech makes one wonder if he forgot that he was speaking about the CM of his own party and not as an opposition leader. But Sidhu does not seem to care as he feels this bombastic attitude is what gives his party the best chance to come back to power by shifting all anti-incumbency to the sitting CM.
Working party president Kuljit Singh Nagra described Sidhu as a babbarsher (lion) while other MLAs said Sidhu’s election campaign will electrify the party cadre and wipe out the chances of Akali Dal and AAP.
After doing all this, and if the party wins, Sidhu would want his reward. Only that the Congress has left the ‘next CM’ question hanging in the air.