Chandigarh: A day after an ugly spat broke out between Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu, a senior party leader said the matter would be resolved only after the election results are declared on 23 May.
“Everyone is busy with the elections and once the results are out I will seek a report from the state president and also the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader,” Asha Kumari, the Congress party in-charge for Punjab, told ThePrint.
“We have, right now, more important things to do than Sidhu,” Kumari added, saying she had not received any written complaint and only knew of the tiff through newspapers.
A senior leader from the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said the public war of words between Amarinder and Sidhu was a sign that the Congress was anticipating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab.
“Everything is possible in the Congress,” said the state’s former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal in a statement issued Sunday evening.
“Not to talk of Amarinder, but even party president Rahul Gandhi’s directions are not followed,” he added. “Rahul had repeatedly said that Sam Pitroda should apologise for his utterances on the 1984 riots, but he cared two hoots for Rahul and has not offered an unqualified apology to date.”
The root of the tiff
Sidhu and Amarinder, two of the Congress’ most recognised leaders, have been locked in a war of words since the party denied the former cricketer’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, a ticket from Chandigarh.
Kaur has alleged Amarinder’s hand in foiling her nomination from the Union Territory, telling mediapersons in Amritsar that he and Kumari didn’t think her deserving of an MP ticket.
Amarinder had denied her allegations, pointing out that he had no role in the decision-making for the Chandigarh ticket. He added that Kaur was asked to contest from Bathinda or Amritsar, but she refused.
Even so, Sidhu echoed his wife’s claim at a press conference Friday. “My wife would never lie,” he said when asked about her statement. “My wife has that much strength and moral authority that she will never lie.”
This statement came days after Sidhu, at a rally in Bathinda Tuesday, hinted at the Congress playing a “friendly match” with arch-rivals SAD, and asked the electorate to “punish” the “players”.
It is believed that he was hinting at an alleged pact between Amarinder and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal to let each other’s wives win: Amarinder’s wife Preneet Kaur is the Congress candidate from Patiala and Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur is the SAD candidate from Bathinda.
The statement came just ahead of voting for Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats on 19 May, Sunday.
Amarinder lashed out Sunday, saying Sidhu wanted to replace him as chief minister, and that he had asked the party high command to take action against the TV celebrity.
“His ill-timed comments against me and the Punjab Congress leadership have damaged the party,” he added. “If he is a real Congressmen, he should have chosen a better time to air his grievances instead of just ahead of voting in Punjab. Perhaps he is ambitious and wants to be chief minister,” Amarinder had told journalists.
Although Sidhu has denied having said anything that suggested a collusion between the Congress and the SAD, Amarinder is learnt to have provided the video clips of the rally to the party high command.
What happens next
The tiff puts the Congress brass in a pickle as both are popular leaders.
Amarinder had single-handedly led the party to power in the 2017 assembly polls and he was in charge of the party’s campaign in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election too.
With the exit polls predicting that the Congress will win at least eight-nine of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats, Amarinder’s stature in the party is expected to rise.
Sidhu has largely stayed away from Punjab but has campaigned across the country: He is a crowd-puller and has been used in over 70 election rallies. His no-holds barred approach against opponents, coupled with his articulation skills, make him an asset for the party. He also draws his strength from his closeness to the Gandhi family.
If Amarinder seeks to punish Sidhu by removing him from the cabinet, it will not be possible without the high command’s nod.
Although this is not the first time that the two leaders have exchanged barbs, the ferocity of Amarinder’s reaction to Sidhu’s remarks show that he is serious about the party taking action against him.
Any action against Sidhu, however, is expected to elicit a virulent reaction from him. Sources told ThePrint that the former cricketer had a dossier ready on Amarinder and “his men”, which he could make public.
“For the Congress high command, it is bad situation to be in,” said a Congress leader.
“They are caught between two strong, independent leaders who are at loggerheads,” the leader added. “Whatever happens, the matter should be resolved before both leaders dig their heels in.”