While Singh clarified he wouldn’t join BJP, the announcement of his departure from Congress puts paid to party efforts to mollify him, even as the sudden resignation of his bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu as Punjab state chief continues to roil the party, posing a stiff challenge to the Gandhis who have backed the former cricketer.
“I will not remain in Congress. I have already made my position very clear. I will not be treated in this manner,” Amarinder told NDTV. Later, he dropped Congress from his twitter profile.
He also let out that a new force will come up in Punjab, suggesting the launch of a new party. If he does that, it will be for the second time, having floated a party when he left Congress protesting Operation Bluestar.
Chidambaram’s tweet pointed to rising unhappiness over how Rahul and Priyanka have handled Punjab, as he said, “I feel helpless when we cannot start meaningful conversations within party forums. I also feel hurt and helpless when I see pictures of Congress workers raising slogans outside the residence of a colleague and MP. The safe harbour to which one can withdraw seems to be silence.”
Manish Tiwari and Shashi Tharoor also came out strongly in Sibal’s support a day after family loyalists like Ajay Maken suggested that the senior lawyer was an ingrate in questioning Sonia Gandhi who “had sent him to Parliament and made him a Cabinet minister”. Immediately afterwards, a group of party workers aggressively demonstrated in front of Sibal’s house which was pelted with tomatoes. The protesters also damaged his car.
Statements from members of G23 — a grouping of party leaders who are unhappy with the current arrangement marked by the absence of a full-fledged party president, an elected Congress Working Committee (CWC) and where Rahul Gandhi takes crucial decisions without holding any formal role — suggested that they considered the protests to be a “command performance”.
G23 leader Ghulam Nabi Azad called for an urgent meeting of the CWC, and in what seemed like an effort at damage control, party spokesman and Rahul aide Randeep Surjewala said the apex panel is likely to meet soon. Azad is understood to have called for a meeting of the “core” CWC and not invitees, who, dissidents suspect, play the role of drum beaters for the official faction.
Support for Sibal, who had upset family loyalists by attacking the leadership for the mess in Punjab, made it clear that the fear of Gandhis getting annoyed with them, was speedily losing its deterrence value.
Singh followed up his meeting with home minister Amit Shah with a call on national security advisor Ajit Doval, ostensibly to discuss the security situation in Punjab in the light of incidents like drone attacks. The political significance of his Delhi visit was not missed as it is clear that he has moved closer to the BJP leadership. Even as he refused to join BJP, that does not rule out the possibility of him launching his own outfit which may join hands with the saffron outfit for the forthcoming Punjab polls.
The balance between asking Shah to take steps to end the farm stir — signalling to farmers’ unions and Sikhs that he continues to take up the cause — and calling on the NSA on an issue where he is more in sync with BJP, indicated Singh might be keeping his future options open.
Singh’s plea to the Modi government to repeal the controversial farm laws also does not reveal other parts of his conversation with Shah. His reference to farm laws could set the stage for a renewed outreach to the farm unions, it is felt. Interestingly, Singh told NDTV that Congress’s 18-point programme given to him for implementation by AICC’s Mallikarjun Kharge panel had focusd on Dalits and OBCs, but there should have been schemes also for Hindus “which were not there”.
The big announcement about his future plan was accompanied by the forecast that Congress’s popularity is steadily dipping in the state while AAP is gaining ground, a claim he ascribed to the two surveys conducted by the Congress during his regime. He blamed Navjot Sidhu’s attacks on his government for a 20% fall in Congress popularity as measured by a survey in June.
Singh questioned Rahul Gandhi’s style of leadership, saying he wants to bring in young members in all positions and sideline all experienced leaders whom he does not listen to. He said this is contrary to the tradition where seniors are treated as planners of the party and young leaders are the implementers. He said the dissident bloc G23 are the experienced members who are the planners.
Continuing with his sharp attacks on Sidhu, Singh called the sulking Congress state chief a “childish man, an unstable man” who cannot be trusted to take an organization or a team like a political party along. “Sidhu is good at drawing crowds. He is good at drama. He can do what he did in Kapil Sharma’s show and get a crowd, but he is not a serious guy. How can a non-serious person be taking serious, major decisions in the running of a party and the state government?” Singh said.
“I have been in politics for 52 years. I have my own beliefs, my own principles. The way I have been treated… At 10.30 am the Congress President said you resign. I didn’t ask any questions. I said I will do it just now. At 4pm, I went to the Governor and resigned… still, the AICC observers told all the MLAs not to visit my residence and asked them to gather at the party office. If you doubt me after 50 years and my credibility is at stake… if there is no trust, what is the point of me staying in the party?” he lamented.