They said he should convince the people of Punjab that his government indeed acts on his and Punjab Congress’ 2017 poll promises of taking “stern” action against the culprits of the 2015 sacrilege cases and the subsequent police firing, and cracking down on the “drug cartels” and on alleged acts of omissions by the Badals and their kith and colleagues in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leadership, said people aware of the matter. Or else, these MLAs said, the CM and the Congress will risk popular ire in the assembly polls, due by next March, despite seeming disarray in opposition camps of SAD, BJP and AAP.
While “Navjot Sidhu’s fight against Captain” is being dismissed as a sideshow, the internal exercise saw many senior and serious MLAs seeking redressal of “real issues” — to quickly soothe the flared-up Sikh religious sentiments over the perceived inaction by the Captain regime in the case regarding 2015 sacrilege incidents (desecration of copies of Guru Granth Sahib in parts of Punjab) during the SAD-BJP government. They argued that the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently quashing the report of the special investigation team constituted by the state government on the Kotkapura police firing incident case added to the sensitivity. They complained that the government’s “soft-peddling on omissions” of the SAD-BJP regime has triggered public anger over “the Captain regime shielding the Badals and Majithia”.
“While Amarinder Singh ji remains the tallest leader of the Punjab Congress, a CM at the ripe age of (almost) 80 taking political loyalty of his MLAs for granted blindly may not be a wise thing to do when these MLAs are faced with the advancing heat of elections. As somebody who once even quit the Congress citing Sikh community’s wounded sentiments post-Operation Bluestar, he can’t be aloof to the sentiment over the sacrilege case,” said a Congress leader.
Rahul Gandhi too has been informally talking to some of these MLAs. Yet, some of these leaders also said the Congress high command should have been more discreet and diplomatic in addressing the rift within than allowing it to be played out on Delhi’s streets.
While Sidhu and PS Bajwa are known to belligerent against Captain Singh, the Congress leaders see much importance in loyalist Congress leader-cum-entrenched Jat Sikh cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Dalit leader-cum-senior minister Charanjit Singh Channi turning critics of the CM.
Adding to the AICC’s headache is the growing rumblings within the Dalit community, both in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana. While Congress leadership is being charged with not giving Dalits in Punjab (about 32%, the highest concentration in a single state) their rightful position in the state government, in Haryana, the community (more than 20%) has started complaining about their leader, Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Kumari Selja, being obstructed in official functioning by some state Congress leaders. The SAD, BJP and AAP promising a “Dalit CM” or “Dalit deputy CM” in Punjab meant the community leaders upping their demand for due role within the Congress regime before the polls.
When contacted, PCC chief Sunil Jakhar told ET: “The Congress high command and our (Punjab) MLAs and senior leaders are trying to address some pending issues so that the Congress party goes to elections as more united and stronger. Congress’ fightback in Delhi will have to start with the party’s victory in Punjab.”
While some Punjab Congress MLAs and leaders are also seeking a pre-poll cabinet reshuffle, with one or two deputy CMs, and constitution of a PCC committee and “reining in” of some CMO officials”, the general feeling is a lot of it depends on the attitude of Amarinder Singh, who is often called the de facto Congress high command in Punjab, something that keeps many in the state unit and AICC edgy.