On July 18, Navjot Singh Sidhu was promoted as the Punjab Congress Chief, ending the long political struggle between him and Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. This development comes in light of the upcoming Punjab State Assembly elections in 2022, after multiple interventions from Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Prashant Kishor.
Capt. Amarinder and Sidhu had locked horns since the 2019 elections when Capt. Amarinder accused Sidhu of poor electoral leadership in the General Assembly elections. The two have always shared a problematic relationship, which was mended repeatedly by the Congress leadership. However, the recent developments about Guru Granth Sahib Desecration case split open old wounds.
The Guru Granth Sahib Desecration
In October 2015, pages of Guru Granth Sahib were torn by protesters in the Faridkot District of Punjab. This incident allegedly involved the Badal family, which was in power in 2015. When Congress came to power in 2017, Capt. Amarinder Singh ordered an inquiry into the desecrations.
However, the inquiry was quashed by Punjab High Court in 2021, and a clean chit was given to the Badals on April 9. Since then, Navjot Singh Sidhu has launched direct attacks aimed at Capt. Amarinder Singh for his failure to conduct a successful inquiry.
His attacks have often included staunch criticisms about the Home Minister, who is Capt. Amarinder Singh himself. He even accused the Congress government of being in bed with the Badals and that Badals were secretly ruling the state government.
Capt. Amarinder Singh also accused Navjot Singh Sidhu of indiscipline and disloyalty towards the party. He claimed that Sidhu wanted to join Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and was constantly in touch with Arvind Kejriwal. He even dared Sidhu to contest 2022 elections from Patiala, insinuating a one-to-one fight with the ex-cricketer.
The public spat forced the Party High Command to form a three-member panel to resolve the friction in Punjab, which happens to be one of the most vital states for Congress.
Congress Brass intervenes
Observing this friction in Punjab from Delhi, the senior leaders of Congress appointed a three-member panel to hold talks with at least 25 MLAs and Ministers of Punjab. The panel included Harish Rawat, AICC General Secretary in charge of Punjab affairs and Mallikarjun Kharge, former Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition.
While the panel was being constituted, both Sidhu and Capt. Amarinder Singh held meetings with fellow MLAs and supporters to strengthen their base. Sidhu reportedly spoke with supporters at the residence of Sukhjinder Randhawa, Punjab Minister, who has also raised questions on the current government’s failed promises.
Sidhu met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on July 1 in New Delhi to present his case about the infighting in Punjab Congress. Post this; Captain Amarinder Singh also met with Rahul Gandhi on July 6. Even Prashant Kishor, who Capt appointed. Singh as his advisor, also reaffirmed the Chief Minister’s stance on the infighting issue.
Congress Chief finally decided to meet Sidhu on July 16 to discuss the mismanagement of the desecration investigations and the political infighting. Speculations also circled about Sidhu’s possible elevation to the post of State unit chief.
On July 18, Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed as the Punjab Congress Chief, amid reservations expressed by Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh.
The political friction between Captain Singh and Sidhu has persisted ever since the two started working together. Sidhu and Singh both have never shied away from publicly calling each other out, often stooping to levels beneath the dignity of two mature men.
With Sidhu’s promotion as the Punjab Congress Chief, rumours continue to loom over the power dynamic between Captain and Sidhu. At the same time, the Congress brass has emphasised the leadership of Capt. Amarinder Singh, in the upcoming polls, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s promotion ensures that even Sidhu has a hand on the driving wheel.
Moreover, Sidhu has shown exemplary lobbying skills as he sharpened his knives against Captain Amarinder Singh. He unified scattered troops who were dissatisfied with Captain’s leadership and further ensured that the Congress brass heard him. While he has been taken lightly in the past due to his defections, he has solidified his position as a force to reckon with this time.
As for Captain Singh, his stature has comparatively weakened due to Sidhu’s punches. Sidhu was appointed despite his very public disapproval and reservations. In addition to this, his ministers have shown disregard for his authority and decision-making capabilities. Such attacks have indeed breached the political bunkers of the ex-Military Captain.
What is left of this long, never-ending political brawl is an arranged power nexus that has failed before. Both Singh and Sidhu have tried working together in the past, only to end up bickering like two teenagers vying for attention. Whether Congress has repeated the same mistake or the new arrangement can work will only be seen in 2022 State Assembly elections.