Capt Amarinder Singh today announced his resignation as Punjab chief minister after months of a political tussle with his bugbear, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. The INC had returned to power in Punjab in 2017 with a substantial majority but soon witnessed infighting in the state unit.
In 2019, Sidhu, whom Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra had brought into the Congress fold even as his older party BJP did not complain — the former cricketer wanted to go hammer and tongs against the Badals, which the late Arun Jaitley did not allow — had resigned from the chief minister’s cabinet after months of squabbling.
Singh had objected to Sidhu’s decision to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. He publicly criticised Sidhu for his controversial hug with Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.
At the same time, Singh began enjoying the support of a big section of BJP and Hindutva supporters with some of his patriotic statements and deeds and also for occasions when he did not disagree with the BJP’s stand on different issues. Often, known BJP supporters would be seen cheering Capt Singh on Twitter, Facebook and other social mediums. Further, these cheerleaders said Singh was one leader in the INC who did not need Rahul Gandhi’s support or endorsement and that he actually did not let the dynasty interfere in the Punjab campaign, because of which the party could come back to power. This attracted the wrong kind of attention of the INC high command.
After the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the report of a special investigation team (SIT) on the Kotkapura firing case, the rebellion surfaced.
The high court verdict was a setback for the Singh-led INC government and then state party chief Sunil Jakhar and cabinet minister Sukhjinder Randhawa even offered their resignation over the issue.
Already vocal against the captain, Sidhu gained support from more MLAs in the party, prompting INC president Sonia Gandhi to form a committee to address the internal feud. The Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge headed the committee.
It’s interesting how quickly Sidhu gained the confidence of satraps in Punjab Congress despite coming from the BJP that, sources say, wanted to strengthen the rival camp in a bid to keep an “anarchist” Aam Aadmi Party, campaigning with the help of Khalistanis, from coming to power in a border state.
Anyway, the committee submitted a report on the issue and recommended keeping Singh in command but accommodate Sidhu by giving him a role in the state unit and reorganise the party structure. In July 2021, the INC appointed Sidhu as chief of the Punjab unit even as Singh resisted his elevation for the top post.
The INC high command appointed Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra as working presidents, paving the way for a significant revamp in the organisational structure. However, the overhaul failed to address the factionalism in Punjab Congress as Sidhu kept targeting the chief minister over various issues.
The rift in the party kept widening as Singh, in his own words, felt humiliated by the way talks transpired over the months. He was unhappy with the INC leadership summoning MLAs twice in the past two months and convening the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Chandigarh.
“I was humiliated three times by the Congress leadership in the past two months… they called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now convened CLP here in Chandigarh today,” Capt Amarinder said at a press conference after submitting the resignation to the governor today.
“I spoke with the Congress president this morning, told them that I will be resigning today,” he added.