The Congress party appears to have finally found a peace plan to end the prolonged strife between chief minister Amarinder Singh and rebel party leader Navjot Singh Sidhu ahead of the assembly polls due in Punjab early next year. A formal announcement on the "formula" to end the impasse within Punjab Congress is likely "any moment", Harish Rawat, the party's general secretary in-charge of Punjab has said.
The Congress leadership has made it clear that Singh will continue as CM for the remainder of his term and will lead the party into the polls. However, despite stiff resistance from the CM and scores of other senior party leaders, MPs and MLAs from the state, the Congress high command looks set to appoint Sidhu as president of the party's Punjab unit. The consolation for Singh is likely to mean that the state unit will also have two working presidents "to act as a check" on the mercurial former cricketer and also as a bridge between the CM and the likely PCC chief, both of whom don't see eye to eye on most issues.
A significant section of the party in Punjab had maintained that the Congress will not break from tradition by appointing a Jat Sikh PCC president when its CM in the state also belongs to the same community. Also, a large number of party leaders who had "procedural grievances" with Singh had also told the leadership that they had reservations against Sidhu being given command of the state Congress. What seems to have turned the tide in Sidhu's favour, despite the strong objections on his name by Singh and other party leaders, is the unyielding support the voluble Amritsar MLA received from the party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The formula of Sidhu as PCC chief with two working presidents was finalized after Priyanka refused to budge from her stand of keeping the once BJP leader within the Congress fold "at any cost" and Sonia assured Singh that his position as CM will not be undermined. Singh's political advisor, Prashant Kishor, who met former party president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka earlier this week, is also said to have cautioned the Gandhis that a free pass to Sidhu on running affairs of the Punjab Congress may be counter-productive for the party ahead of the assembly polls and trigger defections to Opposition outfits like AAP and the Akali Dal.
Congress sources say the two working presidents will represent the aspirations of other dissents within the party who, while being critical of Singh's leadership style, were not convinced about Sidhu being the final word on organisational matters in the state. Names of party MP and prominent Dalit leader Santokh Singh Chaudhary, Punjab cabinet minister Vijay Inder Singla are doing the rounds for the post of working president of the state unit.
Appointing Chaudhary and Singla as working presidents say sources will also help the party offset any resentment among the poll-bound state's Hindu and Dalit electorate.
Singh had told interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and a three-member panel constituted by her to resolve the Punjab stalemate that the PCC chief must belong to the Hindu community. Earlier this month, after Sidhu's exclusive meeting with Rahul and Priyanka triggered rumours of his appointment as the PCC president, Singh had hosted over two dozen Punjab Congress leaders from the Hindu community for lunch at his official residence in Chandigarh. Later, several of these Hindu leaders had said that the party must appoint the PCC president from their community.
By giving in to Sidhu's demand following pressure from Priyanka, party leaders hope that the Congress can finally put an end to the daily spectacle of the CM being publicly criticised by his in-house rival. However, party leaders caution that should this compromise formula actually be rolled out without any last-minute twist, Sidhu will have to tread with very carefully. The party is aware that for Singh to defer to Sidhu in organisational matters is a "practically impossible prospect" says a senior Punjab Congress leader, adding that if Sidhu tries to be overtly assertive or slights the CM further, Singh's cool may give in and the party could have "hell to pay in the elections".
The blueprint for truce may, thus, be ready but will this uneasy peace last is the big question that Congress members in Punjab are now asking.