Sidhu, Captain call truce, put up united face as chinks remain

Even though it appeared to be an end to the cold war between Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and his former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu with the latter’s elevation as party state chief, the indications at his installation ceremony amply suggested otherwise, reports RAJESH MOUDGIL

Albeit the Punjab chief minister Capt Amrinder Singh and his former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu put up a united face at the latter’s installation ceremony as party state president to save the party high command from embarrassment, their subtle digs at each other betrayed the underlying tensions between the two.

It was the bad blood between the chief minister and Sidhu camps for the past several months that the party high command was compelled to intervene and launch the damage control exercise in the wake of upcoming state assembly elections which are due in February next year.

A three-member committee formed by the party high command headed by Rajya Sabha member, Mallikarjun Kharge with state in-charge Harish Rawat and former Delhi MP Jai Prakash Agarwal as its members, had thus summoned all the about 150 state Congress leaders as well as the chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh to Delhi to thrash out issues raised by both the sides during the past several weeks.

The malaise

The chief minister during his interactions with the panel members stuck to his guns and trashed all the issues raised by the dissenting legislators about his performance and style of functioning. He also shared with the committee members his government’s achievements and implementation of most of the poll promises.

Besides, Capt Amarinder Singh also shared with them the information about allegedly dubious land deals and “interests’’ of some legislators and other leaders in mining and liquor businesses. In his support was a set of party leaders, ministers and legislators who wanted action against Sidhu for his continuous tirade against the chief minister.

On the other hand, Sidhu and other dissenting leaders including Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh, also stood their ground and raised the issues they had been highlighting publicly since the recent past.

They had been critical of Capt Amarinder Singh on a variety of issues which included the Kotkapura police firing case. The dissenting MLAs alleged that the government was targeting its own MLAs while it should be probing the scams that took place during the previous Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government.

Also, some of the leaders who had held a meeting at the residence of the cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi a few weeks ago, decried the government’s attempt to rake up over two-and-half-year old harassment allegation by a woman IAS officer against Channi about some inappropriate messages on her cell phone. They were further irked over the subsequent threat call by a political aide of Capt Amarinder Singh to Pargat Singh saying that cases would be opened against him for raising voice against the chief minister in sacrilege and police firing cases.These issues were besides a meeting of some of the legislators belonging to SC and OBC categories on unfulfilled poll promises.

Subsequent to its meetings with the leaders of the two camps, the Kharge committee had espoused a rejig in the state party organisation and an apt adjustment of Sidhu in the party affairs ahead of the upcoming assembly polls. It also asked Capt Amarinder Singh to address various issues raised by the legislators in a time-bound manner.

The flash point

The differences between Capt Amarinder Singh and Sidhu appeared to reach a flash point a few days ago after the party high command announced the latter’s elevation to the post of party president and the former expressed his strong reservations.

The chief minister initially refused to even meet Sidhu, leave aside congratulating him on his new appointment till Sidhu apologised for his remarks against him. Sidhu did not apologise for his remarks but went to attend the high-tea party organised by the chief minister for all the party leaders prior to Sidhu’s installation ceremony. Though an air of bonhomie appeared to prevail at the said meeting, it reportedly did not go as smooth as it appeared.

Sources in the party said that Sidhu who had reached the said meeting before the chief minister, did not meet him on his arrival and instead left the venue alone only to return after a few minutes.

An air of unease

The efforts of the party high command for a patch-up between Capt Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu, notwithstanding, there remained an air of unease at the very ceremony of Sidhu’s assuming the charge as party state chief. The party affairs in charge Harish Rawat had specially flown to Chandigarh to attend this event.

The differences between the leaders belonging to the two camps were evident as the MLAs and MPs loyal to Capt Amarinder Singh left the ceremony before its culmination.

Also, Sidhu touched feet of several senior party leaders, but did not touch Capt Amarinder Singh’s feet, while the interaction between the two too remained brief. While Capt Amarinder Singh repeatedly acknowledged Sidhu’s elevation, the latter hardly mentioned Capt Amarinder Singh’s name in his address.

Some of the ministers including Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Bajwa and Sukhbinder Sarkaria, who belonged to Sidhu’s camp, did not come on the dais despite his repeated requests to them while ministers Vijay Inder Singla, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Rana Gurmit Sodhi of the chief minister’s camp were there on the dais.

Several of the party workers could be seen repeatedly raising slogans for Sidhu during the chief minister’s address. Capt Amarinder Singh in his address recalled his ties with Sidhu’s family and said that it was Sidhu’s father Bhagwan Singh Sidhu who helped him enter politics.

Sidhu in his address said that the protests by farmers, doctors, nurses and drugs were the real issues which needed to be resolved. He held he had no ego and that he would work with all party workers. Rebuking opposition parties’ remarks, he further held that Congress stood united.