Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was declared the Punjab Congress chief this evening after weeks of infighting and in face of strong opposition by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. The sign-off came as a group of MPs supporting the Chief Minister sought to meet party chief Sonia Gandhi and put forward their views.
The order, signed by party general Secretary KC Venugopal, also named four working presidents instead of the expected two.
The names showed the party balancing out the elevation of Mr Sidhu by meeting Mr Singh’s demand of keeping focus on Hindus and Dalits.
The working presidents are Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Kuljit Nagra and Pawan Goyal.
Sources said while Mr Gilzian was one of the disaffected MLAs who accused Mr Singh’s government of not doing anything for Dalits, Mr Danny is seen as a supporter of the Chief Minister. Mr Nagra, sources said, has the ear of Rahul Gandhi.
The last two days passed in a flurry of meetings by both sides to consolidate their positions, despite the peace formula offered by the Gandhis after detailed consultation with Mr Sidhu and Mr Singh.
While Mr Sidhu went into action mode yesterday from Patiala — the Chief Minister’s home turf — rounding up MLAs, the Team Amarinder, led by Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa, went into a huddle with Punjab MPs in Delhi this morning.
The plan was to tell Mrs Gandhi that over the last five years, Mr Sidhu has behaved in the most erratic fashion and has no grip on the organisation, sources said. Leaders also said that old-timers in the party were upset with the choice of Mr Sidhu — whom they see as a “BJP reject” — calling the shots.
The move by Team Amarinder came a day after Mr Singh gave his assent to the Central leadership’s decision to elevate Mr Sidhu. But he also provided a set of riders, at least one of which did not go well.
Mr Singh had demanded a public apology from Mr Sidhu about his disparaging tweets. But none came. Upset, the 79-yar-old Chief Minister has refused to meet Mr Sidhu, party sources said.
Mr Singh also sought a free hand with the state cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of the three working presidents under Mr Sidhu. The reshuffle is expected to focus on the induction of Hindus and Dalits.
In Patiala, meanwhile, Mr Sidhu has been meeting party MLAs through the day. Yesterday he met 30 MLAs, more were on today’s list.