Punjab Cong on a sticky wicket as Sidhu refuses to fall in line

Chasm within Punjab Congress seems to widening with the state leadership and the former state party president Navjot Singh Sidhu not being seen on the same page ahead of the upcoming General Election, which is just about three months away. A report by Rajesh Moudgil

The top Congress leaders in Punjab have two daunting challenges at a time when the upcoming Lok Sabha elections are just about three months away. It has to fight the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on one hand and the factionalism within, led by former party chief Navjot Sidhu, on the other.

Sample this: The last few days saw the state leaders including state chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, state in-charge Devender Yadav and the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Partap Singh Bajwa holding deliberations with leaders and the workers of some of the Lok Sabha seats about the preparations for the upcoming polls – in different parts of the state. These meets, like several party programmes, were skipped by Sidhu.

It may be recalled that Sidhu and state leadership have, for long, been engaged in a bitter war of words. However, since the polls are due in May, such a situation is set to harm the party immensely, if allowed to continue.

At such meetings in Patiala and Sangrur, the fissures came out in open when Warring was asked by the newspersons about Sidhu’s absence from party events. Warring in a veiled attack on Sidhu said that now anyone thinking himself to be above party, wouldn’t get notice, he would be straightway shown the door.F

“Focussing solely on individual interests hinders the prosperity of the party. It is imperative to prioritise the party’s interests above all else. Together, we are stronger than when standing alone”, he said.

Warring had also written to the party high command in the past including the post-Moga rally held by Sidhu without his consent. On another occasion, a war of words was also witnessed at a party meeting.

Earlier, several party leaders had openly rued that Sidhu seemed to blow his own trumpet while holding his “solo shows’’.

Sidhu’s ‘darkest phase’ jibe

Sidhu, on the other hand, in a veiled attack on the state leaders held that many honest and senior party leaders in the state had been sidelined and people of no political stature were trying to call the shots which weakened the party.

He had also gone on to say that he had decided to pull the Congress out of this “darkest phase’’ by supporting all the party leaders. He further held that unlike many leaders who had shifted over to other parties for posts and personal gains, he had left BJP to strengthen the Congress in Punjab.

However, in reaction to it, Durlabh Singh, a close associate of Warring, also took to `X’ and said: “Which darkest phase? These are like abuses to the Congressmen who have toiled for the past two years’’?

Another senior leader also said that the problem was that Sidhu was participating in the rallies being held without keeping the state leadership into the loop.

Earlier this month, Warring, who did not name anyone, had sought that the party programmes should be held in consultation with the state unit and said that those who become a “spoilsport’’ would face consequences. He said that even though party programmes should be held according to the state unit president’s wishes, he had a big heart as he had no insecurity from anyone. “Some people have a good height, but a small heart and they feel threatened’’, he said without naming Sidhu.

Sidhu, in reaction to it, had posted a message on the X without naming anyone, saying that spineless leaders who could not stand for what was right were now talking big. The message was understandably meant for his detractors seeking action against him. He also recited an couplet (shair) meaning that the people who sold themselves for a penny and the ones who went on their knees making compromises and who grew in pots, talked about banyan trees  – “Kodi kodi bikey hue log, samjhauta karke ghutano pe tike hue log, bargad ki baat karte hain, gamle mein uge hue log’’.

It may be recalled that it was on December 9 that several senior leaders of the party had sought action against Sidhu during their interaction with the party in-charge Yadav, and the latter had assured them that he would speak to Sidhu about it.

Subsequent to it, Sidhu, on the question about his rallies, held that these programmes were scheduled before Yadav’s visit and that his next public meetings were scheduled for January 21 and January 24. He said that he had also told Yadav that the discipline was for everyone and it could not be one thing for a few and something else for the rest.

No ticket for Preneet: Warring

Notably, Warring while responding to a media query in Patiala, regarding the party MP Preneet Kaur, pointedly said that she was currently not a part of the political fold of the Congress as she was suspended from the party. Any person causing a disruption to the path of the Congress, would face consequences from the high command, he said and pointedly said that she would not be the party candidate from Patiala Lok Sabha seat this time. Kaur was suspended from the party in 2023 for supporting her husband Capt Amarinder Singh, who had joined BJP in 2022.

Indiscipline, gangrene must be checked in time: Bajwa

The fissures, in the latest instance, seem to widen with the LoP Partap Singh Bajwa quipping on January 24 at the top leaders’ meeting in Jalandhar in the presence of Yadav that indiscipline and gangrene must be checked in time.

Stating that the Congress had lost the 2022 assembly polls solely because of the indiscipline and it was time this mistake was not repeated. “Indiscipline has to be checked in time just like gangrene. Ideally, the toe has to be removed. It spreads fast. If not treated in time, a foot or even the leg has been ampuated’’, he said, according to media reports.

Sidhu in poll panel

Meanwhile, while the tussle within the party continues, the party has set up its Punjab state election committee with Warring as its chairman and senior leaders including Bajwa, Ambika Soni, Navjot Sidhu, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and former chief minister Charanjit Singhh Channi among its members.

The committee also includes Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Manish Tewari, Mohinder Singh Kay Pee, Rajinder Kaur Bhathal, Vijay Inder Singhla, Rana Gurjit Singh, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Kuljeet Singh Nagra, Pargat Singh, and Sukhpal Singh Khaira in its 27-member panel. The panel has four ex-officio members – president, state Youth Congress, president, NSUI, chief organiser, state Seva Dal and president, state Mahila Congress Committee.