The war between Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu spilt out in the open when the Local Bodies minister skipped a crucial post-election Cabinet meeting which was chaired by Amarinder.
In an open rebellion against what appears to be most of the Congress' Punjab unit, Sidhu declared to the media that him skipping the meet was a mark of his protest against being unfairly blamed for the Congress' poor show. He addressed the media with a bunch of papers in his hand and said Congress won in big numbers in the urban areas.
"Urban areas played a pivotal role in Congres's victory in Punjab. In urban areas, Congress won 34 out of 54 seats with 63 percent strike rate while in rural areas Congress has bagged 35 out of 63 seats with 55 percent strike rate. Congress won in all large cities, including Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala and SAS Nagar, which marks 50 percent of the urban Punjab," India Today quoted Sidhu as saying.
"It is a collective responsibility. My department has been singled out publicly. One must have the ability to see things in the right perspective. I cannot be taken for granted. I have been a performer throughout. I am answerable to the people of Punjab," he said.
Now speculations is rife that he might be divested of his portfolios or could even be shunted out to what is deemed "low-level ministries."
After the elections, Amarinder told India Today, "His responsibilities have to be redesignated. We lost Bathinda and Gurdaspur because of the poor performance in urban [assembly] segments."
Earlier, Sidhu was also conspicuous by his absence during Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meet, called by Amarinder last week. Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu had claimed that he was not invited for the meeting.
The main trigger for the recent face-off was Amarinder's 23 May comment against the Sidhus, where he subtly blamed the cricketer-turned-politician and his wife for sabotaging Congress in the key urban seats, which the BJP managed to win in the Congress-ruled state.
"He is the Local Bodies Minister and was responsible to carry out development in urban areas. We need to assess whether it was the Modi effect or Sidhu was unable to deliver due to which we lost urban seats like Bathinda, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur," said the Punjab chief minister addressing a press conference in Chandigarh.
Reacting to Sidhu's earlier remarks that his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu was speaking the truth when she accused Amarinder of denying a ticket from Amritsar, he said that Sidhu should have waited for a day to speak out his mind against him. "Speaking just a day before the voting in Bathinda may have been the reason behind losing the seat. I will certainly be taking this issue up with the party high command," Huffington Post quoted Amarinder as saying.
However, the embers of a long-standing ego tussle were lying just beneath the surface for a long time. It is noteworthy to recall the manner in which Sidhu finally chose to switch to Congress after flirting with Aam Aadmi Party for some time. The rumour mill strongly suggested that Sidhu was after the chief minister's post and it was part of the negotiations on his entry to the party. A report in The Wire suggests such reports were fuelled by the Sidhus themselves.
However, when finally he did join the Congress, he did so willingly accepting Amarinder as the Congress' chief ministerial candidate. Before joining the Congress, Sidhu had said he would join the party only minus Amarinder, who he accused of having a 'nexus' with the then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The state leadership was unaware that Sidhu and the party high command were in touch over his joining the party.
When the state Assembly results gave a favourable outcome to the Congress, there were again speculations that the party would at least offer the deputy chief minister's post to assuage and reward the one-time star campaigner of the BJP for switching over to the Congress. Such reports again were attributed to 'sources close to Sidhu" and his wife. But by giving him a nondescript portfolio and placing him third in the pecking order of his cabinet, Amarinder made sure he makes his point: that he does not respond well to hard negotiations and arm twisting, and he will run the Punjab government as he pleases. Sidhu took it in his stride, and at the time, even if he was upset, he didn't show.
He touched Amarinder's feet and shook hands with Rahul and Sonia after taking oath as a minister. But all was not well between the chief minister and his cabinet minister could have been anybody's guess.
The next turn was Amarinder's. He not only refused to defend Sidhu in face of Opposition onslaught after the former's contentious his Pakistan visit but blamed the move for Congress' loss.
"Indians will not tolerate anyone hugging the Pakistan Army chief," the chief minister, who once served in the Indian Army, said. He also brought in Navjot Kaur Sidhu in his attack and said the duo would have at least waited to criticise him for ticket distribution till polling was over.
Navjot Kaur had accused Amarinder of being instrumental in denying her a party ticket from Chandigarh, and Sidhu later backed her saying his wife never lies. The duo had also expressed resentment over not being involved in the election campaign in Punjab.
"Captain saab and Asha Kumari think madam Sidhu doesn’t deserve a single ticket. My ticket from Amritsar was cut on the pretext that after the Amritsar train accident, I can’t win from here. Captain Saab and Asha Kumari said it," she had said. Justifying why Singh won’t campaign for the Congress in Punjab, she said, "Captain saab is our chota (small) captain, while Rahul Gandhi is our vadda (big) captain. When he has already said that he is winning all 13 seats, what is the need of campaigning for him? There is no point doing anything for those who think we aren’t capable enough," she added.
Peeved by these comments, Amarinder had accused Sidhu of harbouring ambitions to replace him as the chief minister. "If Sidhu wanted to challenge me and my job, then he should take it up with the high command,” Singh said after casting his vote. “It is for the high command to decide on any action against Sidhu, but the Congress, as a party, does not tolerate indiscipline. I do not have any differences with Sidhu, whom I have known since he was a child. Perhaps he is ambitious and wants to be chief minister," ANI quoted him as saying.
Congress' senior leader and Health Minister Brahm Mohindra came in support of the Chief Minister and criticized the Navjot Singh Sidhu for his ''untimely outbursts'' against the party leadership terming it as ''sabotage.''
Another Punjab minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa hit out at the cricketer-turned-politician, asking him to quit if he cannot work with the chief minister. "Since he does not know who the captain of the ship is, he should be removed from the Cabinet," Housing Minister Bajwa said.
Meanwhile, Sidhu had hit back at Chief Minister Amarinder Singh saying he has been unfairly "singled out" for the poor performance of the Congress and that some people wanted him out of the party. Sidhu also defended the working of his local government department saying that no other minister in the Amarinder Singh dispensation has worked "so transparently."
Sidhu said his department was a "rudderless ship" when he had joined it. The cricketer-turned-politician said in the past two years, the department has managed to generate Rs 6,000 crore and all its projects are being completed on war-footing basis.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2019 15:49:38 IST