Claiming that it has got a “positive response” from the ground after choosing Charanjit Singh Channi as Chief Minister, the Congress high command was keen not to let Navjot Singh Sidhu remote-control the government in Punjab. This was cited by sources as one of the reasons behind Sidhu’s surprising resignation as state unit chief of the Congress.
Congress leaders familiar with the developments in Punjab pointed out that though Sidhu had his say in some of the crucial decisions post Captain Amarinder Singh’s resignation from the top post, he was “angry and upset” that his suggestions were ignored in the appointment of some top officials.
Sidhu, sources said, didn’t want Rana Gurjit Singh, who resigned from the Amarinder Cabinet in 2018 in the wake of allegations in a sand mining case, to be inducted into Channi’s Cabinet. He was also said to be against the appointment of APS Deol as Advocate General and wanted Deepinder Singh Patwalia named to the post. In both instances, Sidhu didn’t have his way.
“He wanted to remote-control the government. But some of his suggestions indicated that he would get into revenge politics against those whom he does not like, which includes the former CM. The Congress party does not believe in revenge politics or politics of vindictiveness. So, the leadership had to keep his suggestions aside,” said a party leader.
Sources said Sidhu, whose appointment as PCC chief was pushed by the Gandhis, especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, had vehemently opposed the CM candidature of Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, though he had an overwhelming support from MLAs. Sidhu also opposed the allocation of the Home portfolio to Randhawa and the appointment of O P Soni as deputy chief minister (since he is from his turf of Amritsar). A party leader said Sidhu had threatened to resign several times while the new appointments were happening.
Sources said the party high command has received “positive” feedback on its appointment of a Dalit chief minister and there is a growing realisation that Channi could be an “asset” in the assembly election, coming up early next year. So undermining him to let Sidhu prevail could be counter-productive, sources said.
“Channi surprised everyone with his energy and enthusiasm after his appointment. The party has to rally behind him and support him,” said a party MP.
Sources said that for now, the national leadership does not fear that Sidhu’s sudden exit will make it difficult for Channi in the Congress legislative party or the government. Sidhu’s failure to muster an overwhelming support from party MLAs, despite his proximity to the Gandhis, was evident during the discussions with MLAs while the search for a replacement for Amarinder Singh was on, they said.
“There seems to be no immediate threat to the new Chief Minister or the party government as of now. The only trouble is if Sidhu manages to mobilise a good share of MLAs to show the high command that he has their support, which is unlikely to happen now,” said a source in the party, adding that the Gandhis, while “shocked” by Sidhu’s sudden move on Tuesday afternoon, are unlikely to back him for the “extreme step he has taken” because “he did not even leave room for talks”.
They pointed out that the Congress high command took a decision to appoint Sidhu as the PCC chief at a time when there was speculation that Amarinder Singh was in talks with the BJP. “It was a huge risk the Gandhis took. Now he’s let them down,” said one of the leaders.
“Sidhu is not seen as a consultative leader and his deeds and interventions sometimes smack of obstinacy. The latest drama will not do any good to the party in a state where we have high stakes,” said the MP.