Amarinder Singh briefs Congress panel, underlines need for party unity

Congress panel meets lawmakers amid dissidence led by Navjot Singh Sidhu.

June 04, 2021 01:36 pm | Updated 11:50 pm IST - New Delhi

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh leaves after a meeting with a All India Congress Committee panel in New Delhi on June, 4, 2021.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh leaves after a meeting with a All India Congress Committee panel in New Delhi on June, 4, 2021.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh in his three-hour meeting with the three-member panel of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) on Friday, put up a strong defence of his government to counter dissidence led by former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.

“It’s an internal matter and there is no need for any public discussion.. Elections are due in six months and we have to work together and win the elections,” Captain Amarinder told reporters after the meeting.

Though there was no confirmation, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra reportedly joined the meeting when Captain Amarinder met the three member panel.

Multiple sources told The Hindu that ahead of next year’s Assembly elections, there would be significant changes in the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) as well as the Punjab cabinet.

But the exact role for Mr. Sidhu and how the party wants to accommodate him will be left to party president Sonia Gandhi, said a source familiar with the deliberations.

The panel, that has been meeting Punjab lawmakers, MPs and party leaders since Monday, is expected to submit its report to her in the next couple of days.

The Chief Minister is learnt to have made it clear to the three-member panel comprising of Mallikarjun Kharge, Harish Rawat and J.P. Aggarwal, that the PCC should not be headed by another Jat Sikh as the State government is already being headed by one.

This could effectively put a spanner in Mr. Sidhu’s aspirations to head the State unit currently headed by Sunil Jakhar, a Jat from the Hindu community.

Dalit representation

And if the party decides to appoint a deputy chief ministers, the Chief Minister is learnt to have argued, that there should be at least one from the Dalit community. He is also believed to have made a detailed presentation on what the party had promised before elections and what his government had delivered.

The Chief Minister’s critics including Mr. Sidhu and former PCC chiefs — Partap Singh Bajwa and Samsher Singh Dullo — have been the most critical of the State government’s handling of the 2015 sacrilege issue.

They alleged that the government could neither punish those involved in the desecration of the Holy Guru Granthsahib at Bargari nor indict the Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali government for the 2015 Kotkapura firing incident, following protests over the sacrilege.

Capt. Amarinder is learnt to have informed the party panel that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) is investigating the sacrilege issue afresh and the law will take its course.

“I understand importance for Congressmen and the people of the sacrilege issue. The Chief Minister understands this much more than us. Administrative and legal steps are being taken and the results will be seen over the next few days,” Mr. Rawat, who is also the Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab, told reporters.

Beyond the sacrilege, issue it is learnt that several MLAs had raised issues about the style of functioning of the Chief Minister, his lack of accessibility was cited as a problem and the dominance of the bureaucracy. But not many could name a replacement who could match Captain’s stature.

Similarly, most MLAs were keen to ensure that Mr. Sidhu doesn’t leave the party but were not yet ready “to hand over the steering wheel to him” ahead of the elections.

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