Express News Service
CHANDIGARH: The power tussle within the ruling Congress in Punjab intensified on Tuesday with four cabinet ministers and over two-dozen MLAs loyal to state party unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu demanding the immediate ouster of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
By late evening, the CM appeared to have won over six MLAs and a former MLA, as they distanced themselves from the revolt.
Those on the warpath include Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Charanjit Singh Channi (all four cabinet ministers) and Punjab Congress general secretary (organisation) Pargat Singh. They met at Bajwa’s house before announcing the revolt.
After the meeting, Randhawa and Channi said the party cannot win the state polls under Amarinder’s leadership and requested the high command to name his successor.
Sidhu later tweeted, “Got a call from Tripat Bajwa ji asking for an emergency meeting… Met him along with other colleagues at the PPCC office. Will appraise the high command of the situation.’’
The Congress has 80 MLAs in the Assembly. Punjab will go to polls in about six months.
The rebels said they will meet AICC general secretary Harish Rawat when he arrives on Wednesday and seek Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s appointment.
Sidhu too was targeted by a group of Punjab ministers and MLAs, loyal to CM Amarinder Singh, who demanded strong action against his two advisors over their “patently anti-national and pro-Pakistan comments”, warning it could cause massive damage to the Congress in the run-up to the Punjab Assembly polls due in less than six months.
The two advisors of Sidhu have sparked a row with their comments.
Malvinder Singh Mali had claimed that “Kashmir is a country of Kashmiri people” while another advisor Pyare Lal Garg had taken a swipe at the CM for criticising Pakistan, saying it is not in Punjab’s interest.
Earlier, Amarinder Singh had asked Sidhu to “rein in” his advisors and had described their remarks as atrocious and ill-conceived.
Congress MP Manish Tewari on Monday had asked if such people should be kept in the party.
On Tuesday, the Punjab chief minister faced an open revolt from the rival camp in the party.
Four ministers–Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Charanjit Singh Channi–and around two dozen legislators met here at the residence of Bajwa, a known detractor of Amarinder Singh.
When asked if an attempt was being made to oust the chief minister, Bajwa told reporters it’s not an attempt but the demand of people.
To a question on the new face, he said that decision will be taken by the party high command.
Bajwa said they would seek time to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and apprise her of the political situation.
He said “drastic” steps need to be taken and if there is a need to change the chief minister, then it should be done.
Addressing the media after the meeting, Channi said several party legislators and ministers on Tuesday assembled here and expressed concern over the unfulfilled promises, including delay in justice in case of desecration of a religious text in 2015, arrest of the “big fish” involved in drug rackets and scrapping power purchase agreements.
He said besides him, Bajwa, Sarkaria, Randhawa and Punjab Congress general secretary Pargat Singh will meet the party high command.
These five are known detractors of Amarinder Singh.
The Congress’ recent efforts to quell dissent in the state unit with Sidhu’s appointment have come a cropper and the developments are expected to deepen the crisis in the state unit.
“Today the situation is such that our issues are not being resolved with the chief minister (Amarinder Singh) and that is why we are going to meet the party high command,” said Channi.
He claimed perception has gained ground in Punjab that Amarinder Singh and the Shiromani Akali Dal have “colluded” with each other and it has “damaged” the reputation of the Congress.
Meanwhile, six MLAs and one ex-legislator, who were present at Tript Bajwa’s residence, distanced themselves from raising the banner of revolt against the CM.
These are MLAs Kuldeep Vaid, Dalvir Singh Goldie, Santokh Singh Bhalaipur, Angad Singh, Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli and ex-MLA Ajit Singh Mofar, according to a statement issued by the Punjab Chief Minister’s office.
Mofar said he did not even attend the said meeting and had merely gone to meet one of the cabinet ministers present there.
He said he was shocked to see his name being touted as one of those seeking Amarinder’s removal.
Vaid made it clear he was “not part of any such conspiracy against the chief minister” while Goldie firmly put his might behind Amarinder.
Terming it as “a conspiracy hatched by a section engaged in trying to drive a wedge within the party”, these seven leaders threw their weight behind the chief minister and reposed their full faith in his leadership, as per the statement.
Meanwhile, Bajwa, Channi, Randhawa and a few legislators also met Sidhu at the Punjab Congress Bhawan, following which Sidhu tweeted, “Got a call from Tripat Bajwa ji asking for an emergency meeting. Met him along with other colleagues at the PPCC office. Will apprise the high command of the situation.”
Meanwhile, the chief minister’s loyalists targeted Sidhu.
The remarks by Sidhu’s newly appointed advisors were clearly against “India’s interests, and detrimental to national security”, said ministers Brahm Mohindra, Vijay Inder Singla, Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Balbir Singh Sidhu and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, along with MLA Raj Kumar Verka, in a joint statement here.
The group of ministers and MLAs demanded stringent legal action against the advisors.
The Congress leaders also raised questions on Sidhu’s “failure” to put his foot down on such “anti-national and pro-Pakistan diatribe” by his close aides, despite the uproar it triggered across party lines.
They said Sidhu’s “omission” gave ammunition to opposition parties which were quick to recall the PPCC president’s own bonhomie with the Pakistani prime minister and Army chief.
(With PTI Inputs)