Central Congress leadership in limbo, Punjab CM unable to enforce his authority, Minister Sidhu sulking and people suffering
- Amba Charan Vashishth
An unprecedented, unheard of political situation has developed in the Congress Party ruling Punjab, never seen before in the history of politics and democracy in the country.
As a politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was born in the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). As a BJP candidate he won Amritsar parliamentary seat two times. His ambitions grew. He wanted BJP to snap ties with its oldest ally, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and fight the 2017 Punjab assembly elections projecting him as the chief ministerial candidate. When things did not move the way he wanted, first he quit his Rajya Sabha seat and later BJP in search of greener pastures in Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or Congress Party.
Finally he landed in the Congress party where he won the assembly election and was made a Cabinet Minister under Capt. Amrinder Singh Chief Minister. From the very beginning Sidhu had an eye on CM’s post. This was confirmed by Punjab CM Captain Amrinder Singh also.
It is difficult to say whether Sidhu follows controversies or controversies follow him. Yet, it remains a fact that he is always in the news because of controversies.
Even after being sworn as a cabinet minister in Punjab he continued to be a member of the Kapil Sharma show on TV which, in the opinion of opposition was unethical. CM Amrinder Singh stood by him and said there was nothing wrong.
Things came to a crisis when Pakistan’s newly elected PM Imran Khan invited him to his swearing-in ceremony and he felt proud to go there. After the swearing-in ceremony he hugged Pakistan’s Army Chief which offended the people of India. CM Amrinder too expressed his displeasure over this conduct of Sidhu. Yet, Sidhu remained unrelenting. He continued to praise Pak PM saying he is an ‘honest’ man and wanted friendship with India.
When Uri and Pulwama happened, PM Modi gave a free hand to India’s armed forces to teach a befitting lesson to Pakistan which was waging a proxy war with India through terrorist activities in Kashmir. The Indian army first undertook a surgical strike and after Pulwama the Indian Air Force destroyed terror camps in Balakot in Pakistan. This retaliatory action was praised by one and all in the country. Even countries like USA, UK and many others supported India saying that India has a right to act in self-defence.
While opposition Congress appeared not supportive of the Modi government’s action, Punjab CM Amrinder Singh welcomed it. This stand paid dividends to him in Parliament elections in getting 8 out of 13 seats in Punjab at a time when in other Congress-ruled States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which had been voted to power six months back, party was almost routed. It also needs to be noted that Sidhu was a ‘star’ campaigner for Congress in all these States.
The new development was an embarrassment for Sidhu. Under pressure from audience, Sidhu was removed from Kapil Sharma show too.
Sidhu’s differences with CM Amrinder Singh went public when he said "Mere captain Rahul Gandhi hain" (my captain is Rahul Gandhi).
On his part, CM Amrinder Singh said that Congress lost in urban areas of Punjab where as Urban Development Minister Sidhu’s performance had not been up to the mark. On June 6 CM reshuffled the portfolios of some ministers, divesting the portfolio of Urban Development from Sidhu and giving him the charge of Power. Sidhu felt humbled. He accused CM of having singled him out for this treatment. He has, so far, not taken charge of his new ministries. Earlier, he had also stayed away from the meeting of the Cabinet.
It was on June 6 that the reshuffle of portfolios was undertaken by CM. While all others took charge, Sidhu has not so far. On June 10 Sidhu met Congress President Rahul Gandhi and other leaders. He is adamant that his earlier portfolios should be restored.
On June 29, Punjab CM Amrinder Singh met Congress leaders at the Centre. He reiterated his stand that it is his prerogative to reshuffle portfolios of ministers.
As a result, an unprecedented situation has emerged in Punjab where a chief minister has failed to exercise his authority and there is a cabinet minister who is defying the chief minister. Virtually the portfolio of Power is without a minister for the past about a month. Who is suffering — the people? If a sulking minister is not performing his duties, does he have the moral right to pay and perks?
The Congress leadership at the Centre is in limbo, unable to resolve the dispute. It is establishing a wrong precedent.
(The writer is a political analyst and commentator)