In Sidhu saga, it's Rajiv's friend vs Priyanka's man

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The Congress in Punjab may be staring at a split, with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in his last tenure and inductee from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Navjot Singh Sidhu shooting off the Gandhi siblings’ shoulder eyeing the state party presidentship and the chief minister’s post. 

A senior Congress leader with a distaste for Amarinder’s leadership said that Sidhu was the chosen one of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and not Rahul Gandhi, to lead the party in the state in a post-Amarinder scenario. 

Navjot Singh Siddhu
Amarinder was drafted into the Congress by Priyanka’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, and was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980. Rajiv and Amarinder were schoolmates in Dehradun. 

The Punjab chief minister has been sporadically critical of Rahul’s leadership skills and his relationship with the Gandhi siblings hasn’t been as cordial as it was with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.

While Sidhu formally sent his resignation letter to Amarinder last week after addressing it to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the Punjab CM finally accepted it on July 20. Sidhu has been incommunicado for over a month now. He hasn’t taken charge of the power department, which was assigned to him after being divested of his local government portfolio. Amarinder, meanwhile, has spent considerable time in Delhi, meeting Congress MPs from the state. He also met Sonia’s confidante Mohsina Kidwai last week in the capital. 

Captain Amarinder Singh
“In Sidhu’s case, Amarinder did not show magnanimity. He should have punished all ministers, who failed to get leads in their respective constituencies. Instead, he singled out Sidhu. Right now, it’s no more than an ego tussle between Sidhu and Amarinder. Both think they are larger than the party when it is the other way around,” said Pratap Bajwa, former MP. 

“Yes, Amarinder is nearing 80 and he will be replaced. But the Congress in the state, so far, has survived only because of him. Sidhu played his cards too soon. Nobody in the party or the state likes him. Nobody supports him. Nobody wants him back as minister,” said Asha Kumari, who is in charge of the Congress’s Punjab affairs. 

In more ways than one, the drama over Sidhu in Punjab has brought to the fore the differences between the old guard and the new order of the party emerging in Delhi after Rahul’s resignation as party president. 

Priyanka was instrumental in drafting Sidhu in the Congress after he quit the BJP in 2016, having served it for over a decade. Her liking for Sidhu has put the Congress in a precarious position in the state. There is virtually no support for Sidhu either among the party’s legislators or its cadre. 

A senior leader explained that when another minister, Om Prakash Soni, refused to take charge of his ministry, there were a plethora of calls made to the CM’s office and other leaders in his support. With a deluge of support for Soni, Amarinder placated him to take charge of his new ministry. 

However, even a month after refusing to take charge of his new ministry, there has been no show of solidarity by anyone in the Congress for Sidhu. While Priyanka envisages Sidhu as Amarinder’s successor, a similar sentiment doesn’t exist on the ground. 

A leader close to Amarinder even suggested that if Sidhu continued to enjoy Priyanka’s support in his open rebellion against Amarinder, there would be no option but raising the banner of revolt and splitting the Congress in the state. 

The leader said: “Amarinder is a political heavyweight. Sidhu can’t be even called the new guard. How is Sidhu the right person to replace someone like Amarinder? He has made disparaging comments in public about not being able to sit in the same room as Amarinder. Had Sidhu been serious about learning from Amarinder, he should have worked and performed well as a minister. But he is opportunistic and cannot get along with anyone. He bought some of his supporters when he switched from the BJP. But he made no effort to connect with the Congress cadre. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious. But there is a time for everything.” 

A senior leader said: “Priyanka can like Sidhu. But he doesn’t want to be a minister. What can she do in such a case? I am close to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. But what can they do if I decide I do not want to work?”

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