Opinion

How Long Will Truce Between Amarinder Singh, Najvot Sidhu Last?

The Captain and Sidhu have made a tentative rapprochement, but plenty signs of rancour linger in the air within the Punjab Congress.

How Long Will Truce Between Amarinder Singh, Najvot Sidhu Last?
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Ending months of public sparring, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and his bête noire, Navjot Singh Sidhu, signalled a ceasefire last week. Accepting the fait accompli presented by the Congress high command, the Captain attended Sidhu’s installation ceremony as the Punjab Congress chief, on July 23.

The cessation of hostility from Singh, who had stoutly opposed the former cricketer’s elevation for months, came even though Sidhu refused to oblige the CM on his demand for a public apology over the “personally derogatory social media attacks” that the Amritsar East MLA had made against him. At the installation ceremony, the Captain and Sidhu made no overt displays of a rapprochement. Instead, Sidhu waxed eloquent about his personal fight to restore Punjab’s pride, making it clear that Punjabiyat had taken a hit under Captain.

Singh too made it a point to gently assert his patriotism and seniority by underscoring that he had been in politics since the 1970s. The CM made a high-pitched attack against Pakistan for trying to foment trouble in Punjab and it wasn’t lost on anyone that this could have also been aimed at Sidhu, given his proximity to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. After all, Singh’s relationship with Sidhu nosedived after the former BJP MP’s appeal to Khan ostensibly paved the way for an expeditious opening of the Kartarpur Corridor in 2019.

With Punjab due for polls in less than eight months, the question baffling the Congress’s ranks in the state is whether the two equally headstrong Jat Sikhs can now work in harmony to wrest a poll ­victory for the Congress.

“I cannot recall any incident in recent memory where the central leadership has so brazenly humiliated a CM of our own party. After all that has happened, it would be foolish to think that Captain and Sidhu will work as a team,” says a Punjab Congress veteran. Another party leader says it is “impossible to imagine Captain saheb taking directions from Sidhu on administrative issues or for Sidhu to seek the CM’s counsel on PCC matters”. The only way for the CM to regain lost ground, says the leader, is by “expediting fulfilment of our poll promises, particularly on emotive issues concerning farmers or the investigation into the 2015 sacrilege and police firing incidents at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura”.

Party sources also insist that the ride doesn’t seem too smooth for Sidhu either. “Sidhu knows that a large chunk of state leaders did not want him as the PCC chief, but fell in line because of the high command and for fear of losing their tickets in next year’s polls. It is also important for him to realise that he can no longer behave like an in-house critic and blame the CM for everything,” says a party MP. A majority of the Congress’s MPs in Punjab remain unhappy over Sidhu’s elevation and have refrained from overt congratulatory gestures.

The mood in the Punjab Congress was, perhaps, best summed up at the installation ceremony of the new PCC chief and the four working presidents by Sidhu’s predecessor, Sunil Jakhar. A casualty of the Singh vs Sidhu feud, Jakhar touched a chord with many of his party colleagues when he spoke against the “Congress culture” of going into overdrive to “accommodate leaders who constantly throw tantrums” while forgetting those who work silently behind the scenes to keep things together. Though he praised Singh’s leadership, Jakhar made no secret of the fact that the party cadre and people at large were unhappy with the high-handedness of the state’s bureaucracy and the government’s inaction in the sacrilege cases. In his speech, there were lessons for both Singh and Sidhu.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Uneasy Truce")

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