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Amarinder’s 5 vs Sidhu’s 5 — the key players in Punjab Congress battle for supremacy

Between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, the party’s top leadership is divided into 2 clear camps.

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Chandigarh: As the battle for supremacy between Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu rages on in Punjab, the party’s top leadership is divided into two clear camps. 

The massive rift has staunch party loyalists and old timers on both sides making it tough for the party high command to cull the rebellion.

Here is a lowdown of the five top men in each camp — the status quoists backing Amarinder and the rebels firmly behind Sidhu in his quest to oust the chief minister. 

The rebels 

Sukhjinder Randhawa

Leading the revolt against the chief minister is the 62-year-old cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, once a close confidante of Amarinder. 

When Amarinder was out of power between 2007 and 2017, it was Randhawa who was a constant companion and a vital link between the chief minister and the party high command. 

When Amarinder became chief minister in 2017, it was expected that Randhawa would be immediately inducted into the cabinet given their relationship. 

Instead, much to Randhawa’s surprise Amarinder did not include him in his cabinet until 2018, when he was finally given charge of the jails and cooperation department. Even that did little to placate Randhawa, who had been eyeing charge of the home department. 

Of late, Randhawa has been at the forefront of the vocal attacks against Amarinder, especially over the rampant drug addiction in the state and for not taking action against Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia, accused of being involved in the drug trade. 

Randhawa has also slammed Amarinder for his alleged lackadaisical approach in getting the Badals to “pay for” the 2015 police firing on Sikh protesters that left two people dead. The protests came in wake of incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015. 

One of the senior-most Congress leaders from Majha (districts bordering Pakistan), Randhawa is the son of Santokh Singh Randhawa, a veteran Congress leader who was close to former chief minister Darbara Singh. 

Santokh Singh was the chief of the party’s state unit in 1985 when he was unceremoniously removed following allegations of close links to Sikh militants. The senior Randhawa had denied all charges. 

Sukhjinder Randhawa has gone through his own share of controversies. In January last year, a video of him allegedly using derogatory language against a Sikh guru went viral. Randhawa had then claimed that the clip was doctored. 

In March last year, the Akalis alleged that Randhawa had links to a dreaded gangster from Majha. Then in May this year, the Akalis demanded a probe when Randhawa’s personal assistant was booked in a cheating case. 


Also read: Punjab’s next CM? Sidhu’s social media team is working hard to create that image


Charanjit Channi

A Dalit MLA from Chamkaur Sahib, Channi (58) has been an Amarinder critic for a while now. The technical education minister has been opposing constant interference by the CMO in his department. 

For instance, he has been opposed to private universities coming up in the state but that has been ignored. 

One of the younger cabinet ministers, Channi is a third-time MLA and known for his penchant for educating himself. A bachelor in law and an MBA, Channi did a Masters in political science while he was the leader of opposition from 2015 to 2016. 

He became an MLA for the first time in 2007 when he fought independently after being denied the party ticket.

Tript Rajinder Bajwa

The 78-year-old Bajwa is another friend-turned-foe of Amarinder. Bajwa along with Channi and Randhawa hope that one of them will replace Amarinder as CM before the elections next year if they keep up the attacks. 

Bajwa is the son of Gurbachan Singh Bajwa, who was a cabinet minister to several chief ministers, including Partap Singh Kairon. Tript began his political career as a municipal councilor and has also served as the party’s general secretary. 

Currently the rural development minister, Bajwa had won from the Fatehgarh Churian seat in 2017 by a wafer-thin margin.

The four-time MLA is eyeing the Batala seat for the forthcoming elections, but Amarinder has started backing another Congress leader, Ashwani Sekhri. Sekhri, a former cabinet minister, and Bajwa are arch rivals and have been levelling allegations against one another. 

Sukhbinder Sarkaria

The 63-year-old Sukhbhinder Sarkaria is a three-time MLA from Raja Sansi and currently the mining and revenue minister. Considered to be close to Amarinder, he has maintained a low profile. As such, his support for the dissidents against Amarinder has come as a surprise to many. His son Ajay is a rising Punjabi film star. 

Pargat Singh

Once an Akali, the 55-year-old Pargat Singh has been close to Navjot Sidhu for several decades, in part since both have the same career trajectory — sportsmen who turned politicians.  

The 55-year-old was a former Indian hockey team captain and was once considered to be among the world’s best defenders. He led the hockey team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 

Singh was with the Punjab Police when the Akalis offered him the ticket from Jalandhar in the 2012 assembly polls. 

He was, however, suspended for anti-party parties in 2016, after which he joined Sidhu and the two along with the Bains brothers from Ludhiana formed the Awaaz-e-Punjab outfit. 

Later that year he joined the Congress along with Sidhu and won from Jalandhar in 2017. Pargat Singh was one of the first MLAs to come out openly against Captain Amarinder Singh this year when we held a press conference following a meeting with the CM. Sidhu recently made him the general secretary of the party in the state. 


Also read: The 5 Congress high command tasks Punjab CM Amarinder Singh could struggle to complete


The status quoists 

Brahm Mohindra

One of the senior-most Congressmen in the state, the 75-year-old Brahm Mohindra is the minister of local self-government and parliamentary affairs. 

He was the prime beneficiary when Sidhu’s portfolio was changed by Amarinder following the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Sidhu had the powerful local government with him, which Amarinder handed over to Brahm Mohindra, who was then the health minister. 

Mohindra is a six-time MLA from various constituencies in Patiala district. Son of a lawyer, he was active in the Youth Congress and has been an AICC member since 1987. He has also served as the vice president and general secretary of the Punjab Congress. 

Despite being among the top leaders in the state, Brahm Mohindra has always been overshadowed by Amarinder whose home constituency is also Patiala. 

Although he is backing Amarinder in the current crisis, the two have been at loggerheads for decades. In January 2015, Mohindra had launched a full-blown attack on Amarinder for defying the party high command as deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. 

Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi

The 67-year-old MLA from Guru Har Sahai in Ferozepur, Rana Sodhi is the sports and NRI minister of Punjab. A two-time MLA, Sodhi was the chief parliamentary secretary and political secretary to Amarinder during his first stint as chief minister from 2002

Sodhi joined the Youth Congress in 1976 and first contested elections in 1985 at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi. 

Following the 2017 elections, Sodhi was not made a minister when Amarinder took over as CM but was inducted later in the first major reshuffle in 2018. 

Last October, Sodhi’s son, Anumit alias Hira, who was facing probe in an attempt to murder case, was appointed an information commissioner. Sodhi himself is fighting a recovery suit filed by the PWD against him and his family members for allegedly pocketing double compensation for acquisition of land owned by them. Sodhi initially tried to broker peace between Amarinder and Sidhu but failed and has since been backing the chief minister.

Sadhu Singh Dharamsot

The 61-year-old minister of forests and social justice, Dharamsot is an MLA from Nabha. One of the few senior Dalit leaders in the party, Dharamsot was accused in a major SC post-matric scholarship scam last year. 

The principal secretary of his department Kirpa Shankar Saroj accused him and his officials of misappropriating funds worth Rs 63 crore meant for SC students in professional colleges. 

Despite huge pressure from inside the party and opposition, Amarinder took no action against Dharamsot. A report by Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan overturned the findings of the principal secretary, giving Dharamsot a virtual clean chit. 

The opposition as also Dalit bodies have, however, continued to put pressure on the government over the issue. A separate CBI inquiry is currently on in the scam. 

The five-time MLA has been supporting Amarinder from the beginning against Sidhu. 


Also read: Amarinder says Jallianwala memorial is nice, hours after Rahul calls it an insult


Shyam Sundar Arora

The 63-year-old minister for industries is the MLA from Hoshiarpur and a staunch supporter of Amarinder. 

The two-time MLA was accused of being involved in an illegal land deal, in July this year. The SAD and AAP are gunning for Arora for allegedly causing a loss of over Rs 400 crore to the state exchequer following the sale of 30 acres of land liquidated to the government to a private realtor. The AAP has also questioned his links to a former naib tehsildar booked by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau in a disproportionate assets case. The minister has, however, denied all the allegations. 

Considered to be close to former union minister and senior Congress leader Ambika Soni, Arora had won elections in 2002. He was, however, denied the ticket in 2007 when he contested as an independent candidate but lost. As industries minister, Arora has nothing much to show in terms of attracting investment into the state in the past four years.

Bharat Bhushan Ashu

An MLA from Ludhiana West since 2012, the 50-year-old Ashu is the minister for Food and Civil Supplies, and Consumer Affairs. 

He had served as a municipal councillor in Ludhiana from 1997 to 2012. He won the assembly polls in 2012 when Akalis-BJP combine formed the government. 

Ashu became deputy leader of the party in the assembly. When Amarinder Singh returned to power in 2017, he inducted him as a minister

Ashu, however, has a major personal grouse against Sidhu. In early 2019, as local bodies minister, Sidhu entrusted a DSP Balwinder Singh Sekhon with an inquiry to find out if a realtor had been granted a change in land use illegally following Ashu’s intervention. 

Sidhu had even then said that no minister would be spared if they are involved, a veiled reference to Ashu. After Sidhu’s resignation from the cabinet in July 2019, the inquiry hit a roadblock and on Ashu’s complaint, the DSP was suspended. 

In February 2020, the suspended DSP alleged that in a 28-year-old case, Ashu had confessed to harbouring two Khalistani militants and had conspired to murder his own uncle. He even produced Ashu’s “confession” but the matter was given a quiet burial.

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)


Also read: How one act of defiance in Mughal India cemented Sikh-Muslim ties in Punjab’s Malerkotla


 

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