Chandigarh: The rift between Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and ruling Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu seemed to be deepening, with the two publicly positioning themselves for the CM’s chair post-polls.
On a day the incumbent CM pushed for the declaration of the party’s chief ministerial candidate in a TV interview, Sidhu said in a press conference that it was for the people of Punjab to decide who will be the next chief minister of Punjab and not (his) party high command.
In his TV interview, Channi said the party should declare the CM candidate because it has lost whenever it hasn’t done so.
Sidhu’s apparent show of defiance against the Gandhis comes barely five weeks before the state goes to polls.
While the Congress hasn’t officially said that Channi, the incumbent CM, will continue in the post if the party retains power, his projection as the party’s Dalit Sikh face in the polls doesn’t seem to leave much room for doubt on this issue, according to sources.
However, Sidhu, who has never been coy about his chief ministerial ambitions, isn’t prepared to give up. His latest statement, virtually questioning the party high command’s writ, underlines the continuing infighting in the ruling party.
What Sidhu did during press meet
On Tuesday, Sidhu addressed a press conference in Chandigarh to launch his Punjab model of development and income generation.
Answering a media query that he had still not been declared as the CM candidate by the party high command, Sidhu quipped, “Every person is trying to be CM”.
“The CM will be made by the people of Punjab. Who told you that the high command will make (someone) CM. Listen to me, five years ago, the people of Punjab made some people MLAs. It is the people of Punjab who will decide who will be the MLAs and who will be the CM,” he said.
However, there was no Congress leader beside him during the press conference. Not only was CM Channi conspicuously absent, there wasn’t even a picture of him in the large banners erected behind Sidhu.
The banner only had small pictures of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, with Sidhu’s face dominating the frame. A small logo of the Congress party was used on the top left, with Sidhu’s ‘Jittega Punjab’ slogan featured on the top right.
‘Jittega Punjab’ was a mission launched by Sidhu last year before he returned to active politics, following his resignation from the state cabinet in 2019.
Asked if he would be contesting elections under the banner of ‘Jittega Punjab’ or the Congress, Sidhu said Punjab belonged to everyone, including the Congress.
“Look at the pictures,” he said, pointing towards the photographs of the Gandhi family in his banner. “Punjab is not anyone’s personal property. It belongs to everyone.”
Doing this with permission, Sidhu says
During the press conference, Sidhu repeatedly claimed that he had been duly authorised by the general secretary of the party to present the Punjab model.
“Whatever I am saying is with the permission of the party’s general secretary. This will go to him before the request for the manifesto, but my future depends on this. I have given my word to the people of Punjab and there will be no compromise on that,” he said.
Asked if his Punjab model was in line with what CM Charanjit Singh Channi had been announcing in the past few months, Sidhu said it wasn’t a matter of individuals but of the entire state.
“Do not bring individual names into this,” he said. “He (Channi) governed the state for 110 days according to his intent while I’m talking about policy-making. The government is not going to now run again for just 110 days but for five whole years,” he added.
Questioned about the oft-repeated criticism against him that he was attacking and criticising his own government, Sidhu said: “I fought over this not just for the past five years but even before the last elections, this was my agenda. I will also be putting out the video of my press conference of that time in which I had raised these issues.”
On Punjab debt
Listing out the agenda for Punjab which included better systems to generate income from liquor, sand mining transportation etc, Sidhu said Punjab was on the brink of financial bankruptcy.
“Punjab is the most indebted state. Twenty-five per cent of our income goes in paying interest. The Rs 18,500 crore that we get as compensation for GST will end in June (2022), which is another challenge,” he said.
“The freebies in lollipops that have been given will also add to the expenditure. For instance, the reduction of the petrol prices by Rs 10 has led to a loss of Rs 7,000 crore to the exchequer. Similarly, reduction in power rates (led to the loss of) Rs 4,000 crore to the exchequer,” he said.