Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has upped the ante in his ongoing tiff with cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu, attributing the party’s “poor performance in urban areas” to the former cricketer’s alleged incompetence as a minister.
Amarinder has said he is planning to shift the Punjab local government minister to another department.
“I intend to change Sidhu’s portfolio for his inept handling of his department,” the chief minister said in a statement after election results were announced Thursday.
The Congress has lost in 49 of the 56 constituencies across India where Sidhu, the party’s star campaigner, canvassed over the past one month. Sidhu is considered to be a crowd-puller and he addressed Congress rallies in 14 states, hitting some constituencies more than once.
In Punjab, the party has won eight of 13 seats. It had won three in 2014.
In an interview to a TV channel, Amarinder said the urban vote bank had been the backbone of the Congress in Punjab, but “Sidhu’s failure to do any development work as urban bodies minister” had impacted the party.
The chief minister said he was confident that not just Rahul Gandhi but even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is believed to have a soft corner for Sidhu, would agree with his decision “in the interest of the state, and to strengthen the party”.
He added that he intended to take up the issue with the high command “once things have settled down in the party” following its terrible poll showing.
Sidhu could not be reached for comment repeated attempts. However, he had tweeted after the results: “I take a bow to the mandate of the people of India…voice of the people is the voice of God. Congratulations to the Bharatiya Janata Party!”
Titans in battle
Amarinder and Sidhu, two of the Congress’ most prominent faces in Punjab, have been at loggerheads since the week before Punjab voted on 19 May.
Sidhu had reiterated his wife’s allegation that Amarinder was responsible for the party’s decision to not field her from Chandigarh — a charge denied by the chief minister — and hinted at a rally in Bathinda that the Congress was playing a “friendly match” with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the elections.
He had asked the electorate to “punish” those who were playing this match, alleging that it was intended to ensure that the wives of Amarinder and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, Preneet Kaur and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, respectively, won their seats. Results Thursday showed that the two had won their seats, with Preneet winning from Patiala and Harsimrat from Bathinda.
Amarinder had claimed earlier that he had taken up Sidhu’s remarks with the high command. State Congress in-charge Asha Kumari had subsequently told ThePrint that she had read about the fight in the papers, and said that action, if any, would only be taken after results day.
“While everyone has the right to promote themselves in a democracy,” Amarinder said Thursday in the interview, “It was wrong on his part to make the controversial comments once the [poll] battle has started.”
The chief minister had also said Sidhu’s “yari and jhappi (friendship and hugs)” with the Pakistani army chief would not be tolerated, especially by Indian Army personnel, referring to the former cricketer’s infamous interaction with General Qamar Javed Bajwa at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in last year.