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Navjot Singh Sidhu to be Punjab Congress chief? Amarinder gives nod but party high command delays final assent

Rawat also informed Singh that three to four working presidents of the chief minister’s choice would also be appointed along with Sidhu, sources said

Rawat flew down to Chandigarh as tensions escalate in the Congress’ Punjab unit over differences between Singh and Sidhu. Image: Twitter/@RT_MediaAdvPBCM

The All India Congress Committee general secretary and Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat Saturday said that chief minister Amarinder Singh was informed about Navjot Singh Sidhu’s appointment as next head of party’s state unit, News18 reported. The Punjab chief minister has, in all likelihood, accepted the appointment.

According to sources, the official announcement of Sidhu’s appointment is expected to be made on Saturday through a press release.

“I have just returned to Delhi after meeting Amarinder Singh Ji. I am glad that a lot of the things that are being discussed have been proven pointless and Captain Sahib has reiterated his important statement, that any decision taken by the Congress president will be acceptable to all,” the AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab said.

So is all well in Punjab Congress?

Not necessarily. And for few reasons.

  1. The same media report that carried Amarinder’s acceptance of Sidhu’s promotion also quoted Congress sources as saying that the Captain has refused to meet Sidhu until he apologises for his “derogatory tweets and interviews”.
  2. The chief minister is learnt to have told Rawat that the manner in which the issue was handled was not acceptable and he still has reservations over Sidhu’s appointment but would accept any decision that the leadership takes, the sources said.
  3. Just yesterday, Amarinder had written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi reportedly saying that giving the post of state party chief to Sidhu, a Jat Sikh, would upset the party’s senior leaders representing the Hindu community and harm the party’s prospects in the 2022 Assembly elections.
  4. Amarinder is also said to have pointed out that Sidhu’s ideological roots were not inherently within Congress. A former BJP MP, Sidhu had joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 state election following many a flip-flop. He has also, time and again, flirted with the Aam Aadmi Party.
  5. Furthermore, Amarinder’s assent is certainly not unconditional support to Sidhu. He has only agreed on the condition that he maintains primacy in matters of import within the state unit, as per reports. “The Chief Minister stressed that Sidhu’s appointment should complement his efforts in returning the party to power in the 2022 assembly elections…Amarinder (Singh) should be given a free hand in cabinet rejig and also in the appointment of working presidents under the Punjab Congress President,” NDTV reported quoting a source in Punjab Congress.

The caste angle: Is Captain’s objection valid?

Although Congress leader Manish Tewari had clearly rebutted the idea, saying that religion and caste do not stand in way, but Congress’ actions in the state speak otherwise.

But earlier, it was Tewari only who had batted for a Hindu face for the PCC chief’s post while giving details of the composition of the state’s population.  Sikhs, he said, constitute 57.75 per cent of the population, while Hindus and Dalits constitute 38.49 and 31.94 per cent respectively.

  • Sidhu replacing Sunil Jakhar, a Hindu Jat, as state chief is a near certainty. But this time around, Congress has also decided to create a new tier in the party ranks to accommodate other castes.
  • Rawat informed Amarinder that three to four working presidents of the chief minister’s choice would also be appointed along with Sidhu, sources said. There is also talk of appointing two working presidents – a Dalit and a Hindu face to balance the caste equations.
  • The names of minister Vijay Inder Singla and MP Santokh Chaudhary were doing the rounds for the post of working presidents.

Congress leader and chairman of Punjab Large Industrial Development Board Pawan Dewan had also urged the party to have a representation of the Hindu community on key posts in the state unit.

“Punjab Congress president – Jat Sikh (if Sidhu is made state Congress chief). CM – Jat Sikh. Punjab Youth Congress President – Jat Sikh Campaign Committee Chairman- Jat Sikh, Hindu kaha hai (where is the representation of the Hindu community)?” he tweeted.

Unofficially official… 

In the backdrop of simmering tensions in the Punjab Congress unit, Singh on Saturday stated that any decision taken by the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will be “acceptable” to all.

Singh made the statement amid speculation over likely elevation of disgruntled former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu as the state Congress chief.

Rawat flew down to Chandigarh as tensions escalate in the Congress’ Punjab unit over differences between Singh and Sidhu.

The Hindu also quoted a senior party leader as saying that it was a foregone conclusion that Sidhu would be the next president of Punjab Congress Committee.

“An official announcement is merely a formality now. Sidhu has been asked by the ‘high command’ to start working. Meeting party leaders to seek their support and cooperation is what Mr. Sidhu has started with,” he stated.

Sidhu had also posted a cryptic tweet dropping hints of his appointment even though no final word has come out officially yet.

Party sources said that this along with early celebrations by Sidhu’s supporters have irked Amarinder further.

Tensions had peaked Thursday over the rumoured changes with both Amarinder and Sidhu rounding up MLAs and ministers on their side, and holding separate meetings.

Sidhu has been critical of Amarinder after the Punjab and Haryana High Court in April quashed a probe into the 2015 Kotkapura firing case. Sidhu had questioned the alleged “deliberate delay” in ensuring justice and had accused Amarinder of evading responsibility in the 2015 sacrilege case.

With inputs from agencies

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