Virtually playing his second inning in Punjab Congress, the cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Wednesday was 62 not-out while the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was restricted to just 15.
In a massive show of strength, no less than 62 legislators, out of total 77, reached Amritsar to show their support to Sidhu — giving, in the process, clear indications that the Chief Minister’s ‘public apology’ demand did not hold any ground.
As majority of party legislators reached Sidhu’s Amritsar residence for breakfast meeting on Wednesday morning and later accompanied him to the Golden Temple, Durgiana Mandir, and Ram Tirath Sthal, they insisted that the Congress party in Punjab is united and there was “no need for an apology”.
Contrary to the claims of Sidhu camp, an MLA close to the Chief Minister maintained that only 42 legislators have reached Amritsar, of which three were Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) rebel leaders who have recently shifted loyalties towards the Congress party.
Notably, Congress has a total 77 legislators, besides three AAP rebel MLAs have also joined the party recently, thus having the support of a total 80 legislators in a House of 117.
The development assumes significance as it comes amidst a public tussle between Sidhu and Capt Amarinder, who was strongly opposed to the former cricketer’s elevation to the party’s apex post in Punjab.
Even as the party high command wanted to put an end to Punjab Congress’ internal crisis and power struggle by appointing Sidhu as Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president, the gulf between the two warring leaders has only widened. In fact, the Chief Minister, a day before, had made it clear that he would not be meeting Sidhu till he apologies in public.
Sources have informed The Pioneer that Sidhu has written to the Chief Minister inviting him for his coronation ceremony on July 23 (Friday). However, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) has, till the filing of this report, refused to have received any communiqué from the newly-appointed Punjab Congress chief.
Available information suggests that Sidhu’s letter to the Chief Minister has been signed by about 60 Congress legislators. Besides, the cricketer-turned-politician has also invited All India Congress Committee (AICC) member and in-charge of the party’s affair in Punjab Harish Rawat to the programme.
It has also been learnt that PPCC’s one of the four newly-appointed working presidents Kuljit Singh Nagra would be meeting the Chief Minister on Thursday to personally invite him for the coronation ceremony of Sidhu and the four working presidents.
“Sidhu will formally assume the charge of the state party chief at Chandigarh on Friday and expects all the senior leaders including the Chief Minister to be present at the event,” said Nagra.
Along with Sidhu, the Congress high command has appointed four working presidents — Kuljit Singh Nagra and Pawan Goel are from Malwa region, while Sukhwinder Singh Danny is from Majha region, and Sangat Singh Gilzian is from Doaba region.
Capt Amarinder has all along been opposing Sidhu’s appointment on the party’s top post, but finally conceded with the condition that the latter has to apologise publicly for his ‘150-odd derogatory tweets’. Other than that, Capt Amarinder had demanded say in government and party matters, with the high command assuring him that four working presidents would be of his choice.
However, in a clear snub to the Chief Minister, the Delhi Durbar did not consider the candidates close to Capt Amarinder even for the posts of working presidents.
NO NEED FOR APOLOGY: MLAs
A day after senior most Cabinet Minister Brahm Mohindra refused to meet Sidhu till he resolves his issues with the Chief Minister, the legislators present at Sidhu’s residence maintained that there was no need for an apology.
“Why should Sidhu apologise (to CM)? It’s not a public issue. The Chief Minister has not solved many issues. In that case, he should also apologise to the public,” said Sidhu’s close aide and Congress MLA Pargat Singh.
Another MLA Madan Lal Jalalpur, considered a strong Capt Amarinder loyalist, also maintained that Sidhu should not apologise because it is the Chief Minister’s duty to address the concerns of people of his state, even if it is against him.
“Sidhu is not just Sidhu anymore; he is the Punjab Congress president. He has nothing to apologise for. Although, yes, Sidhu should respect him since he is like a father to us all,” said Jalalpur, adding that the party and the Chief Minister have to work together to be successful.
“I have faith that the 2022 Assembly polls will be won because of Sidhu. CM’s advisers are misleading him. Due to this, Punjab is going backward....The day Sidhu was appointed as the Punjab party president, about five percent of votes for Congress increased. The youth, who were leaving Congress and joining the AAP, came back because of this. I am sure that at least 20 percent of votes for Congress will increase because of Sidhu,” he added.
Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa, who was behind organising Amritsar’s meeting, told the reporters he was surprised at the Chief Minister’s “behaviour”. “Sidhu’s elevation as state unit chief has to be respected and accepted by all, irrespective of whatever differences there might have been in the past,” he said.
Randhawa said that even senior leaders Partap Singh Bajwa and Sukhpal Singh Khaira earlier were at loggerheads with Capt Amarinder but now they have sunk their differences. “Why can’t the Chief Minister sink his differences with Sidhu,” Randhawa asked.
Gidderbaha MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring said that the leaders should not ask each other to apologise at this level.
SIDHU, WORKING PRESIDENTS TO TAKE CHARGE ON JULY 23
The newly-appointed Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Navjot Singh Sidhu, along with his four working presidents, would formally take over reins of the state unit at a function on Friday (July 23).
It has been learnt that all senior leaders are expected to attend the event though a formal list is being drawn out. With differences between him and Capt Amarinder Singh continuing to persist, it remains to be seen whether the Chief Minister attends the event.
SIDHU TO LEAD PROTEST MARCH TO GUV TODAY
After becoming the Punjab Congress president, Navjot Singh Sidhu will reach Chandigarh on Thursday to lead the party’s “protest march” towards the Raj Bhavan from the Sector 15 Congress Bhawan over Pegasus Snoopgate. Sidhu, along with party leaders including Cabinet Ministers and MLAs, will submit a memorandum to the Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore.