Rajat Sharma

Captain out, Sidhu hit wicket, Party clean bowled !

AKBThe flames of Congress infighting in Punjab have reached Delhi, the knives are out and the party leadership is nonplussed over how to handle the crisis.

Capt. Amarinder Singh, one of the tallest Congress leaders in Punjab, announced on Thursday that he was no more in the party with which he was associated for 23 years. He said, “I have been in politics for 52 years, I have my own beliefs, my own principles. The way I have been treated..if you doubt me after 50 years and my credibility is at stake..if there is no trust, what is the point of me staying in the party?” He said this in Chandigarh, after his meetings with Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in Delhi.
The ex-army captain indicated he may float a new party. He ruled out joining BJP, but did not rule out any future tie-up with the party.

Capt Amarinder Singh had been a family friend of Gandhis, since the days when he studied in the same school with Rajiv Gandhi. He predicted doom for the party in Punjab assembly polls due early next year. The Captain said, “the Congress is going downhill.. the people of Punjab do not have any trust in Navjot Sidhu”. He vowed to defeat Sidhu in the coming elections.

As far as the possibility of tie-up between Captain and BJP is concerned, one has to understand the present position. BJP is one of the main parties in Punjab but it lacks a big Punjabi Sikh leader of stature. The captain has left the Congress party and is in need of a big political platform. In short: the captain needs a party and BJP needs a captain.

Till Thursday, the captain ruled out joining BJP, but politics is a game of unending possibilities. Nobody knows what can emerge by next week. Two days ago, the captain was saying he was not going to meet any leader in Delhi, but he met Amit Shah and Ajit Doval. If somebody claims that the meetings were fixed suddenly, I can say it is not correct. The captain’s meeting with Amit Shah was fixed in advance and the captain’s Delhi visit was for meeting the Home Minister.

Two facts are clear at this moment. One, the captain will not return to the Congress party, and two, he will use his full firepower to teach Sidhu a lesson. It is, of course, a different matter that the Congress, at this point of time, is not sure whether Sidhu will stay in the party or not.
On Thursday, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who resigned from the post of PCC chief along with his supporters on Tuesday, had a three hour long meeting with Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi in Chandigarh. Cenral party observer Harish Chowdhary, Sidhu’s associate Kuljit Singh Nagra and Pargat Singh were present in the meeting. Nothing tangible emerged. Before the meeting, Sidhu, via Twitter, had expressed annoyance over appointment of Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota as the new Director General of Punjab Police.

Sidhu alleged that as head of SIT, it was Sahota who had given a clean chit to Badal family and falsely implicated two innocent Sikh youths in the Guru Granth Sahib ‘beadabi’ (sacrilege) case. Sidhu also objected to appointment of Amar Preet Singh Deol as Punjab Advocate General. Deol had represented former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini in a corruption case last month. Chief Minister Channi refused to change both the officials, but the Sidhu camp claimed otherwise. Channi offered setting up a three-member coordination committee comprising Sidhu, Congress leader Harish Chowdhary and himself. The situation continues to remain unclear.

As the serial drama in Punjab Congress continues, most of the state party leaders are exasperated and annoyed with Sidhu. Former state party chief Sunil Jakhar demanded that the chapter must be closed soon and all efforts to challenge the chief minister’s leadership must end now. Another minister Raj Kumar Verka said, Sidhu had resigned on his own, and he must patch up with the chief minister on his own. He advised Sidhu to practise restraint, adjustment and flexibility. Only one minister, Razia Sultana, has till now resigned in support of Sidhu. Other ministers close to Sidhu had been attending cabinet meetings.

About Sidhu’s future plans, speculations are rife. Sidhu, who left BJP to join Congress, had earlier approached Aam Aadmi Party before the last assembly elections. On Thursday, Delhi chief minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal was in Punjab. He was asked about Sidhu. Kejriwal replied: “A battle for throne is presently going on and it is being watched by the people of Punjab. The question is not who is joining which party. Whenever we will have discussion with Sidhu, we shall see, we will tell you.”

Capt Amarinder Singh had told both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi not to trust Sidhu. The captain had told them that Sidhu was unreliable and cannot be trusted. Nobody at that time heeded to his advice. Senior Congress leaders had also advised the Gandhi family not to trust Sidhu much. It was because of this, the central party leadership did not send anybody to Punjab, after Sidhu gave his resignation on Tuesday. Sidhu was told to meet the chief minister directly. He was told that the chief minister would not go to his home to meet him. Sidhu took the cue. He knew that the party leadership was unhappy, and he tamely decided to meet the CM.
Though no concrete results came from the meeting, but because of Sidhu, the party leadership is now facing a revolt of sorts among leaders in Delhi.

On Wednesday, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal held a press conference to say that the party was “headless” without a president and nobody knows who is taking decisions. He reiterated the demand for election of party president and AICC office bearers and said “we are G-23 , and not Ji-Huzoor 23’. “Those leaders who were close to ‘them’ have left the party, while we who are not considered close to ‘them’ are still loyal and standing by ‘them’. “ By ‘them’, Sibal meant the present central party leadership.

The same evening, Congress supporters staged protest outside Sibal’s house, damaged a car and threw tomatoes at his residence. On Thursday, senior Congress leaders including P. Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari and veteran leader K. Natwar Singh denounced the protest. Chidambaram in his tweet said, “I feel helpless when we cannot start meaningful conversations within party forums. I also feel hurt and helpless when I see pictures of Congress workers raising slogans outside the residence of colleague and MP. The safe harbour to which one can withdraw seems to be silence.”
Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “Shocked and disgusted to hear the news of attack and hooliganism at Kapil Sibal’s house. This deplorable action brings disrepute to theparty and needs to be strongly condemned. Congress has a history of upholding freedom of expression, differences of opinion and perception are integral to a democracy. Intolerance and violence is alien to Congress values and culture.”

Another senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, in a letter to Sonia Gandhi, has called for convening Congress Working Committee meeting at the earliest to discuss critical issues. In his letter, he has said that desertions by loyalists have led to turmoil.

Veteran Congress leader K. Natwar Singh on Thursday said, “nothing is right in the party at present. Only three persons, Sonia Ji, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are taking decisions for the leadership.” He slammed Rahul Gandhi saying he was taking decisions in all matters without holding any position in the party. He said, it was Rahul Gandhi who took the decision to replace Capt. Amarinder Singh.

Trouble is also brewing in other state units like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Already more than a dozen Congress MLAs from Chhattisgarh have come to Delhi seeking replacement of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. On Thursday, Baghel defended the Gandhis saying, “everybody knows Sonia Ji is our working president and if leaders like Kapil Sibal raise questions about leadership, what can we say?”

Senior and experienced party leaders are now worried over the internal crisis in Congress. Many of them personally told me they have never seen the party facing such a worse situation in their entire life. Nearly three months ago, it appeared that the Congress would retain power in Punjab, and now the party’s fortunes have plummeted to a low.
Questions are being asked as to who is running the party. Congress working president Sonia Gandhi is facing health related issues. She is unable to devote full time for the party. On her behalf, Rahul Gandhi is taking important decisions.

Party leaders say, the decision to induct Sidhu into the party was taken by Priyanka Vadra. These leaders said, at a time when the party is facing challenges in states like Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Rahul Gandhi has left for Kerala and Priyanka has gone to UP. Capt. Amarinder Singh has left the party, Sidhu has resigned and the Aam Aadmi Party may try to win him over. Arvind Kejriwal has changed his tune about Sidhu, and the captain appears to be ready to join hands with the BJP.

Senior Congress leaders are asking, after doing so much, what did the party achieve? There is an old saying in Hindi “sau jootey bhi khaye, aur pyaaz bhi khaaye”. There is no matching English proverb for this, but it accurately reflects the present state of Congress, which invited the troubles on itself in Punjab by accommodating Sidhu.

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