Amid ongoing party feud in Punjab, Congress MP Manish Tewari on Saturday hailed the coming together of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and former PPCC president Pratap Singh Bajwa, who have been at loggerheads for long. Bajwa, who was replaced as party’s state unit chief by Sunil Jakhar at the Captain’s behest, has been a constant critic of the Amarinder Singh government. However, on Saturday, the two leaders, curiously sporting similar coloured turbans, not only met, but also shared smiles and posed for photos.
This union, however, may not bode well for Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is looking at being appointed as the Punjab Congress chief. Sidhu, who has been engaged in a bitter conflict with the Captain with their hostilities out in the open, has held parleys with the Gandhi siblings in Delhi amid rumours of his possible elevation. However, Bajwa has opposed the idea of Sidhu’s appointment as the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president.
Bajwa, who has for long been in agreement with other dissident leaders in the state seeking the ouster of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, is learnt to have “sealed” a political compromise with his political rival. Bajwa had also mended his differences with Sukhjinder Randhawa and even joined hands with Sidhu.
According to sources, a senior Congress leader has also conveyed to Sonia Gandhi a few party members’ opposition to Sidhu’s promotion, allegedly saying “he does not even know the road to the PPCC office in Chandigarh”.
Tewari, who is in support of a Hindu face as the party chief, welcomed the display of solidarity between Bajwa and Singh. “Good to see @Partap_Sbajwa & @capt_amarinder together along with our Hon’ble Speaker @RanakpINC & @iranasodhi.. Partap who I know since 1983 and Captain Sahib would make a good team for the times ahead. He is an old dyed in the wool Congress Man,” said Tewari.
Punjab Speaker Rana KP Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and former PPCC president Pratap Singh Bajwa and cabinet minister Rana Gurmeet Sodhi had called on Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, at his residence on Saturday evening.
Earlier, today Sidhu, who is being seen as a successor to CM Amarinder Singh, met Punjab party chief Sunil Jakhar in Panchkula. As per party sources his meeting with Jakhar is being seen as an attempt by the cricketer-turned-politician to bring all on board before the proposed announcement.
Besides Jakhar, Sidhu also met Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, senior leader Lal Singh, MLAs Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, Kulbir Zira, Darshan Brar and Barindermeet Singh Pahra.
Sidhu also tweeted photographs with three previous Punjab Congress chiefs — Partap Singh Bajwa, Lal Singh and Shamsher Singh Dullo — and incumbent PPCC president Jakhar.
Meanwhile, Amarinder Singh on Saturday said any decision taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be acceptable to all, even as talk of Sidhu’s elevation despite his oft-stated reservations gathered force.
Amarinder Singh’s statement came after his meeting with AICC general secretary and Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat, who flew down to Chandigarh in what was seen as an effort to placate the chief minister. The chief minister also said he raised “certain issues” with Rawat during the “fruitful” meeting at his farmhouse in Mohali.
According to sources, Amarinder Singh is learnt to have told Rawat that he will not meet Sidhu till he publicly regrets or apologises for his tweets against him. The chief minister is learnt to have told Rawat that the manner in which the issue was handled was not acceptable and he still has reservations over Sidhu’s appointment but would accept any decision that the leadership takes, the sources said.
Sidhu has been critical of Amarinder Singh after the Punjab and Haryana High Court in April quashed a probe into the 2015 Kotkapura firing case. Sidhu had questioned the alleged “deliberate delay” in ensuring justice and had accused Amarinder of evading responsibility in the 2015 sacrilege case.
On Friday, Amarinder Singh wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi. He is learnt to have said that giving the post of state party president to Sidhu, a Jat Sikh, would upset senior leaders representing the Hindu community and harm the Congress’ prospects in the 2022 assembly elections.
Suspense has been building up over the much-awaited announcement from the party high command on the resolution of the festering feud in the Punjab Congress. In case the party chooses to appoint Sidhu as PPCC chief, there will be two Jat Sikhs in key posts. While Amarinder Singh is also a Jat Sikh, Jakhar is a Hindu.
There is also talk of appointing two working presidents-a Dalit and a Hindu face — to balance caste equations.
Manish Tewari has batted for a Hindu face for the PCC chief’s post while giving details of the composition of the state’s population. “Punjab is both progressive and secular but balancing social interest groups is key. Equality is the foundation of social justice!” he said in the tweet, while giving details of Punjab’s demography. Sikhs, he said, constitute 57.75 per cent of the population, while Hindus and Dalits constitute 38.49 and 31.94 per cent respectively.
Rawat had maintained that the central leadership is working out a peace formula where both leaders could work together to help the party win the Punjab Assembly polls next year.
The Congress had set up a three-member panel, headed by leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, to resolve the infighting in the Punjab unit. Both Sidhu and Amarinder Singh had also met the panel. The rival leaders have often aired their differences in public and made statements against each other.
(With PTI inputs)