Chandigarh: Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned as the Punjab Congress president Tuesday afternoon, days after the party high command replaced Captain Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister.
Sidhu, along with a group of MLAs, had rebelled against Amarinder, and the cricketer-turned-politician was believed to have been eyeing the chief minister’s chair.
Sidhu’s resignation, however, comes as a shock as he appeared to have made peace with Channi’s appointment.
He tweeted his resignation letter addressed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “The collapse of a man’s character stems from the compromise corner. I can never compromise on Punjab’s future and the agenda for the welfare of Punjab,” he tweeted, adding that he will continue to serve the Congress.
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 28, 2021
Reacting to the development, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi said that he was not aware why Sidhu had quit but added that he had “complete faith” in the leader. He said he will talk to Sidhu about his move.
Channi was addressing a press conference after the distribution of portfolios to various ministers in Chandigarh Tuesday afternoon.
Although Sidhu has gone incommunicado, close aides say the former cricketer is “upset” because of multiple reasons, the foremost being the choice of senior advocate A.P.S. Deol as Punjab advocate general and Congress leaders Rana Gurjit and Bharat Bhushan Ashu being handed cabinet berths.
Cabinet berths for ‘tainted’ leaders
One of Sidhu’s chief objections was the induction of former irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh into the cabinet. Rana Gurjit was removed from the Amarinder Singh cabinet in 2018 following allegations of corruption. It was alleged that he was involved in a scam relating to the allotment of sand mining contracts to his former employees, including a cook.
Six Congress MLAs from Doaba, Rana’s home region, had written to Sidhu, expressing “resentment” against the decision, pointing out that Rana Gurjit is yet to be absolved of the charges.
Sidhu is also upset at the inclusion of Bharat Bhushan Ashu, with whom he has had a long-standing feud.
Ashu had also backed Amarinder in the power tussle and it is believed that he has only made it to the cabinet because of his connections with the Gandhi siblings.
In 2019, as local bodies minister, Sidhu had entrusted a DSP with an inquiry into whether a realtor had been granted clearance for change in land use illegally on Ashu’s orders. But the inquiry hit a roadblock after Sidhu’s resignation from the cabinet in July 2019, and the DSP had been suspended on Ashu’s complaint.
Opposition parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have also made allegations of corruption against Ashu in the past. He was the food and civil supplies minister and was given the same portfolio Tuesday.
Did not want Deol as AG
Sidhu is opposed to A.P.S. Deol’s appointment as advocate general because he was the lawyer of former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, who is being investigated for his alleged role in the killing of two Sikh protesters in Behbal Kalan in 2015 when the SAD-BJP combine was in power in the state.
In October 2015, Sikh protesters had gathered at various parts in Punjab, demanding action against those responsible for the incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib (considered to be a living Guru by Sikhs).
Saini who was then the DGP had allegedly ordered the removal of the protesters blocking roads during which the police fired at two places — Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan. While protesters were injured at Kotkapura, two men were killed in the police firing at Behbal Kalan.
Amarinder had on assuming power in the state in 2017 promised action against Saini and the Badals — Parkash Singh Badal who was then the chief minister and Sukhbir Singh Badal who was the deputy chief minister-cum-home minister.
During the ensuing investigation against Saini, Deol was his advocate and had recently managed to get him blanket bail from the Punjab and Haryana High Court with the court ordering that Saini will not be arrested in any case until elections in Punjab are over next year.
Deol’s appointment Monday has led to widespread criticism, with the opposition saying that it will be unethical if not illegal for the lawyer to appear in the court in the desecration and firing cases on behalf of the Punjab government.
The twin issues of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and the police firing on Sikh protesters had been one of the major planks on which Amarinder came to power in 2017. But Amarinder’s alleged inaction in supervising the investigation and his government’s inability to defend them in court was one of the major points of dissonance between him and the rebel group led by Sidhu and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, now deputy chief minister.
“Sidhu feels that in appointing Deol as AG even the Channi government has made it clear that they are not serious about the twin issues,” said a close aide.
The aide added that Sidhu was pushing for the appointment of senior advocate D.S. Patwalia as AG but his name was rejected by the party high command on the grounds that his elder brother P.S. Patwalia was an additional solicitor general of India in the NDA government.
Sukhjinder Randhawa given home
Sidhu had also been objecting to Sukhjinder Randhawa getting the home department but his objections were overlooked. In the distribution of portfolios made public Tuesday, Randhawa has been given home. The home ministry is extremely powerful as it controls the entire police force in the state.
Although Randhawa and Sidhu had both led the rebellion against Amarinder, they don’t see eye to eye on many issues. The relations between the two soured further when they battled for the post of the chief minister following Amarinder’s removal. But since Randhawa had the support of the largest number of MLAs, he received backing from the party high command, and was appointed as deputy chief minister.
Sahota’s appointment as DGP
Sidhu, sources said, was also opposed to Iqbal Preet Sahota’s appointment as Punjab DGP.
Sahota, then an ADGP, had headed the SIT that probed the sacrilege cases in 2015 under the Akali regime.
A close aide of Sidhu told ThePrint that the Congress leader has received information of rampant corruption in the recent appointments. The aide said Sidhu is irked that “nothing has changed”.
Although no specific instances of corruption have been listed, sources close to Sidhu said that “top men” are involved in the corruption.
Since Channi’s oath-taking ceremony last Monday, Sidhu had been closely following him everywhere. He went with Channi to Delhi to meet the high command leaders followed by a trip to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Sidhu was also present at the first round of meetings in Delhi to finalise names of cabinet ministers.
For the last meeting held on Friday, however, Channi alone was called to Delhi.
Sidhu was present at the swearing-in ceremony of cabinet ministers Sunday but made it a point to stay in the background.
On Monday, Sidhu’s strategic advisor, former Punjab DGP Mohammad Mustafa, had tweeted a cryptic message claiming credit for Amarinder’s removal saying that “project insaaf” is now complete. He had added that under the able leadership of NSS (Navjot Singh Sidhu) “Mission 2022 Jeetega Punjab” will be the next focus of all energies.
MISSION 2022 pic.twitter.com/YMuBeSlDhI
— MOHD MUSTAFA, FORMER IPS (@MohdMustafaips) September 27, 2021