The factor which worked for Captain Amarinder Singh in 2015, that he could get support of several MLAs to build pressure on the party high command to get Partap Singh Bajwa replaced as the Punjab Congress president, is now working for Navjot Singh Sidhu. It is the perception among MLAs and prospective candidates that Sidhu could help them win their seats in the 2022 assembly elections that has made them welcome his appointment as PCC president despite Amarinder’s serious objections and unhappiness.
In 2015, they believed that Amarinder, not Bajwa, could lead them to victory. Amarinder enjoyed such support from party MLAs and other senior leaders that Bajwa was isolated and the high command was forced to replace him. However, the CM is now facing the anti-incumbency and several questions about his government’s working about. The same set of MLAs and a few ministers, especially the Majha brigade of three ministers, who were in the forefront to organise support for him in 2015, have now sided with Sidhu for the same reason.
Unlike Amarinder, who rallied the MLAs behind himself in 2015 and started holding public functions under ‘Mission Punjab -2017’, Sidhu appeared to be plodding alone. He remained inaccessible to most of the party leaders but stood his ground in questioning the CM through his tweets. It was Amarinder’s direct attack on Sidhu, challenging him to contest from Patiala, that made the ex-cricketer emerge as the main challenger. This was the beginning of Sidhu’s strengthening his fight within the party.
It was after Jalandhar Cantt MLA Pargat Singh, who too had picked up the gauntlet against the CM, reached out to Sidhu that the latter met a few ministers and MLAs in Chandigarh. As the party crisis precipitated in Punjab, the party high command was forced to intervene, and the balance started tilting. However, most of MLAs still did not side with Sidhu even if they did not support Capt Amarinder in their feedback to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Of the several events that made Amarinder lose ground in this battle and worked in Sidhu’s favour, three left a marked impression — warning to Pargat by the CM’s close aide, reported use of dossiers on MLAs which Amarinder later denied and the decision to appoint sons of two MLAs as police inspector and naib tehsildar.
Thereafter, outgoing PCC president Sunil Jakhar’s move on Sunday forenoon to call a meeting of party MLAs and District Congress Committee presidents made the central leadership to announce Sidhu’s appointment with four working presidents. Jakhar later cancelled the meeting after the announcement.
Others who lost the round
It is not just Capt Amarinder Singh who has lost this round to Sidhu. Some senior party leaders too have eaten a humble pie. MP Ravneet Bittu was the first to attack Sidhu. He brought in the argument of ‘Taksali’ Congress leaders, which was followed by others, including Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo. However, it failed to work and Pargat even called it hollow. MP Manish Tewari made the last-ditch effort to block Sidhu by playing the ‘social interest groups’ card and even gave out a percentage of Hindus, Sikhs and Dalits, apparently to argue for communal balance. The meeting of nine party MPs at Bajwa’s residence in Delhi, ostensibly to discuss strategy for Parliament session, also failed to make any impact.