Congress president Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have spoken to Punjab Chief Minister Captain (Retd) Amarinder Singh after nearly 40 MLAs wrote to the All India Congress Committe (AICC) to seek a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
Though there is no official word from the party, sources told The Hindu that the option of Capt. Amarinder stepping down from his post gracefully may have come up in the discussion.
Once considered among the most powerful Congress leaders, the erosion of support for the Punjab Chief Minister has been swift and almost overnight.
“They [the high command] are trying to install a Hindu leader as the Chief Minister after installing a Jat Sikh of their choice [Navjot Sidhu] as the Pradesh Congress Committee [PCC] chief. The people of Punjab won’t accept it,” a leader from the Amarinder Singh camp told The Hindu .
Among the names doing the rounds, former PCC chief and Gandhi family loyalist Sunil Jakhar is considered a frontrunner. In fact, both AICC observers — Harish Chaudhary, a minister in the Rajasthan government, and Ajay Maken — are considered close to former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
Mr. Jakhar told The Hindu he was not aware of any decision surrounding the Chief Minister post so far. He, however, tweeted “Kudos to Shri @RahulGandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis.”
AICC leaders insist there has been no political interference by the high command and Harish Rawat — the AICC in-charge for Punjab — had publicly stated many times that the party will go to the polls with Capt. Amarinder as the Chief Minister.
However, many Congress legislators are said to have bluntly told Mr. Rawat that the party will not win next year’s poll under Capt. Amarinder.
While appearing before the Mallikarjun Kharge-headed panel in June, set up to resolve the bitter factionalism in the State, several MLAs complained about “the Chief Minister’s inaccessibility and complete control over the administration by bureaucrats”.
Though the Kharge panel had given an 18-point agenda for the Punjab government to focus on and deliver, not much progress could be made.
Mr. Sidhu, the newly appointed PCC chief, kept attacking and making public statements against the Amarinder Singh government on a daily basis.
Many Congress lawmakers urged the central leadership to take quick action, as the continuing political turmoil would allow the Opposition in the State to seek dissolution of the Assembly and contest the polls, expected around February next year, under President’s rule.