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Sidhu factor rattles Congress in Punjab

Pressure is being mounted on Capt. Amrinder Singh, Punjab's Chief Minister to either appoint Navjot Singh Sidhu as his deputy or the Pradesh Congress Committee chief

B. Sanjay

Disregarding the steady exodus from the party, Congress high command appears to be unwilling to give up its arm-twisting tactics, even at the risk of alienating its last remaining heavyweights.

The Gandhi clan-Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka have begun mounting pressure on the chief minister, Capt. Amrinder Singh to appoint Navjot Singh Sidhu as either the Punjab PCC chief or deputy chief minister. The Capt. is apparently is not willing to accept either of the demand. Congress president, Sonia Gandhi have summoned both Amrinder and Sidhu to New Delhi on June 22.

Congress insiders told India Narrative that "any pressure" on the Capt. could "go against the party, as Amrinder Singh continued to enjoy the popular support." Another Congress MP from Punjab claimed that Sidhu "lacks support even in the PCC and any move to put him at the helm could split the party."  He went on to add that the local Congressmen "do not trust Sidhu, who has spent nearly 13 years in the BJP."

To contain the brewing factionalism within the organisation, the Congress president had constituted a three-member panel headed by Rajya Sabha MP, Mallikarjun Kharge to speak to warring groups. Sources indicated that both factions, particularly that of the chief minister hardened their stand and rejected any rapprochement over appointing Sidhu as the PPCC chief. The chief minister had made it categorically clear that he was "willing" to accommodate Sidhu in the Council of Ministers but neither as PPCC chief or deputy chief minister. Sidhu on the other hand apparently told the panel that he would "not be comfortable" working with the Amrinder either as a minister or a deputy chief minister. He was insisting on replacing the PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar.  New Delhi Congress leaders indicated that the final decision "rests with Soniaji."

Speaking to India Narrative a senior Congress leader from Punjab said that with the state assembly polls slated for February 2022, any move to "unsettle" Amrinder Singh could be "suicidal." He pointed out that both BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are likely to go in for a "friendly fight."  A pre-poll alliance has already been announced between SAD and Bahujan Samaj Party.  As per the 2011 census, Punjab has the highest percentage of the Scheduled Caste population amongst all the states in the country. The SC population in Punjab is 31.94 per cent of the total population. An ideal scenario for Congress would have been if the rival outfits-BJP, SAD, BSP and AAP had been fighting separately.

With regards to AAP, on June 17, Amrinder Singh apparently triggered defections within the party. Three rebel AAP MLAs which included former Opposition leader, Sukhpal Khaira, Jagdev Singh and Pirmal Singh met Congress scion, Rahul Gandhi at his residence and joined the party. The move to trigger the split ahead of the meeting with Congress high command is expected to strengthen Amrinder Singh's position.

As for history, the differences between Sidhu and the Capt. are nothing new. Sidhu, who switched from BJP to Congress in 2017 sought a bigger role in the organisation. Sidhu's ambition took a hit when he was given the portfolio for Tourism and Local-Self Government. Sidhu, who was accused of "poor performance" was relieved of the portfolio and offered Power Minister. Sidhu refused and resigned from the Cabinet. Since then Sidhu had been targeting Amrinder Singh relentlessly.