The ‘peace formula‘ that the Indian National Congress (INC) high command had worked out over a month ago is unravelling. The crisis in the Punjab unit of the party is out in the open again with more visible acrimony this time. Exactly two years ago, in the first week of August 2019, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had faced probing questions from MLAs during the INC Legislature Party meeting. And now Navjot Singh Sidhu’s adviser Malvinder Singh Mali has resigned even as the Punjab Congress chief issued a veiled ultimatum to the party high command, declaring that he would fight attempts to deny him the decision-making freedom.
Controversial posts on social media by Mali have triggered a storm in the Punjab Congress, drawing criticism from Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
While the party’s high command expected Capt Amarinder and state INC president Navjot Sidhu to co-exist at the helm, despite the latter raising serious questions about the chief minister’s working and Amarinder’s strong disliking for him, happenings of the last three days have precipitated to a level where these appear irreversible.
On 26 August, AICC general secretary and Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat heckled Sidhu by saying that either he should remove his adviser (Mali) or he (Rawat) would remove them. These statements emboldened Amarinder’s camp and they held a show of strength by hosting a dinner at sports minister Rana Sodhi’s residence and claimed that “58 MLAs and eight MPs attended it”.
Apparently infuriated by Rawat’s public comments about removal of his advisers, Sidhu hit back on Friday morning, saying he should be given the freedom to make decisions and he would take the party to new heights in Punjab or he would “itt naal itt vaja daunga (smash things)”.
Sensing that situation was getting out of his hands, Rawat avoided responding. However, no sweet talk by the party central high command may reduce the bitterness spewed out in the last three days. While Sidhu and his camp have been sticking to issues they have been raising.
But it is no longer just a Captain-Sidhu tussle.
August 2019 was the first time MLAs were questioning the chief minister about results on important issues, unlike their earlier complete deference to the captain. Then in March 2020, he faced questions from his party MLAs even on the floor of the state legislative assembly.
The happenings of yesterday and the day before have made a final showdown inevitable. It is unlikely INC president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi can pull the proverbial rabbit out of their hats.
Recently, four Punjab ministers held a meeting with a group of around 24 other MLAs and said in no uncertain terms that the chief minister was in cahoots with the Badals and that the party high command must throw him out if they wanted to win the coming assembly election.
However, the next day, AICC general secretary and Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat said that there was no doubt that Capt Singh would lead the party in the next assembly election.
Capt Amarinder’s camp has now started claiming “satisfaction” with the chief minister’s working.