Chandigarh: The Congress High Command seems to be all set to change the chief minister in Punjab ahead of the assembly elections next year.
The party has called an emergent meeting of all Congress MLAs in Chandigarh this evening and according to reliable sources, the sole agenda is to replace Captain Amarinder Singh with a more “acceptable” face.
While unconfirmed reports suggest that Captain Amarinder has been asked to tender his resignation before the meeting today, no denial or response has been issued by the chief minister who seems to be standing defiant amid the development. The CM has convened a meeting of ministers and MLAs supporting him for a meeting at his official residence here at 2 pm to crystallise their strategy for the evening meeting, a close aide of Amarinder has told ThePrint.
“Kudos to Sh @RahulGandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis,” former state Congress president Sunil Jakhar tweeted.
Kudos to Sh @RahulGandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis.
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) September 18, 2021
Around midnight last night, the party’s Punjab affairs incharge Harish Rawat had tweeted that the “AICC has received a representation from a large number of MLAs from the Congress party requesting to immediately convene a meeting of the CLP of Punjab”.
“Accordingly a meeting of the CLP has been convened at 5pm on 18thSeptember at the PPCC office…. All Congress MLAs are requested to kindly attend this meeting,” he tweeted.
The AICC has received a representation from a large number of MLAs from the congress party, requesting to immediately convene a meeting of the Congress Legislative Party of Punjab. Accordingly, a meeting of the CLP has been convened at 5:00 PM on 18th September at …..1/2 pic.twitter.com/BT5mKEnDs5
— Harish Rawat (@harishrawatcmuk) September 17, 2021
The move had sparked murmurs of change of guard even though Rawat had earlier declared that the 2022 assembly elections would be fought under Amarinder’s leadership. Rawat had cleared the party’s stand after four cabinet ministers claiming support of at least three dozen MLAs met Rawat in Dehradun last month and demanded a change of CM in Punjab.
Following Rawat’s statement, there had been no fresh salvo fired by Amarinder’s opponents led by party president Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The late-night tweet had added to unease in the Amarinder camp. “The manner in which the meeting has been called is not healthy,” a close aide of the CM told ThePrint this morning. “A CLP meeting has been convened without the knowledge of the president of the CLP.”
A mystery letter
Going by Rawat’s tweet, a fresh letter written by MLAs requesting for a CLP meeting seems to be the trigger for the meeting.
But the existence of such a letter is surrounded in mystery. A section of the media had earlier this week reported that at least 40 MLAs, including four cabinet ministers, had written to the party high command asking for the convening of a CLP meeting.
But MLAs, even in the camp opposing Amarinder, say that no fresh letter has been written and the only letter sent to the party high command was the one sent earlier this month, following a meeting of the opponent’s camp at the house of Cabinet Minister Tript Rajinder Sinh Bajwa.
“There is no fresh letter that I have signed on. This is the result of the first letter we wrote before the one-day assembly session,” said Cabinet Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, one of the four cabinet ministers in the Sidhu camp.
Tript Bajwa told ThePrint this morning that the existence of the letter is not a significant question anymore. “The situation has moved much beyond any letters,” he said.
The possibility that an almost month-old letter has suddenly been picked up for action today has cemented the widespread belief among MLAs that the Punjab CM will be replaced. Some are certain that a change is forthcoming.
“Now the question is who is it going to be,” said an MLA from Amarinder’s opponent’s camp.
The possible frontrunners
A section of Amarinder’s opponents say that Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa, PPCC chief Navjot Sidhu and Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa are the front-runners in the CM race. All three are Jatt Sikhs.
There is another section among the MLAs who say that the leader replacing CM need not be from the opponent’s camp or even a Sikh. “It would be easier to deal with any rebellion erupting in Amarinder’s camp if a person from his camp is made CM,” said a senior Congress leader.
Among the non-Sikhs, the name of former PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar is at the top. Names of Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari, Cabinet Minister Brahm Mohindra and Speaker Rana Kanwar Pal are also doing the rounds.
Others, believe that having a Hindu as CM, a Jatt Sikh as PPCC president (already held by Navjot Singh Sidhu) and a Dalit deputy CM would be the ideal electoral combination to ensure the party’s victory in the forthcoming elections. The name of dalit cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi has been doing the rounds as deputy chief minister.
Some feel having a Hindu CM would be disastrous.
“If a Hindu is made Punjab chief minister, it would be disastrous. Punjab is the only state in India where a Sikh can hope to become CM,” said a cabinet minister talking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)