Navjot Sidhu’s tantrums continue to embarrass the Congress at a time the party high command is trying to focus on setting its house in order ahead of the 2022 Punjab Assembly election.
The latest headache for the ruling party was on Thursday after Sidhu – who hasn’t yet formally withdrawn his resignation as chief of the Congress’ Punjab unit – decided to lead party workers from Mohali to UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri, to protest the “brutal” killing of farmers.
In visuals of the contingent as they prepared to set out on their protest, Sidhu looked visibly upset because he had to wait for Chief Minister Charanjit Channi’s arrival.
The former cricketer – whose threat to quit last month left the Congress scrambling, particularly since the party had backed him in his bitter and public feud with former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh – was then caught on camera criticising his party.
The video in question shows Sidhu’s close aide and cabinet minister Pargat Singh trying to pacify him by saying Mr Channi would join them soon. Sukhwinder Singh Danny, one of the Punjab Congress’ Working President, then tells Sidhu the march will be successful.
The response appears bitter; he says: “Where is the success? If Bhagwant Sidhu’s son (a reference to his father) was allowed to lead, then you would have seen… Congress is in a dying stage…”
The remark has also been condemned by the opposition Akali Dal, which has said it showed Sidhu’s lack of respect for the Dalit community. The Akalis have also declared the comment had revealed the Congress’ “caste card” – ahead of the election – had been exposed.
“Persons who keep own ambition above people’s welfare cannot give any direction to the state. They stand exposed… Congress President Sonia Gandhi should tell Punjabis why she tried to fool them by making a Scheduled Caste Chief Minister… but simultaneously reposes faith in Sidhu,” Akali Dal leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said.
Sidhu and Amarinder Singh have waged an increasingly public and hostile spat over the past few months, culminating in Mr Singh declaring himself “humiliated” and quitting.
As he did so, Amarinder Singh repeatedly warned the Congress not to trust Mr Sidhu and declared that he was committed to ensuring his rival did not ascend to his former post.
The Amarinder-Sidhu spat dates back to the 2017 election, after which Sidhu expected to be made Deputy Chief Minister but that was reportedly blocked by Amarinder Singh.
The Congress high command appointed Sidhu as state unit chief and Charanjit Channi as Chief Minister (Punjab’s first Dalit Sikh leader, and appointment made in light of the fact that Dalits constitute nearly a third of the state’s population) in the hopes it would quell in-fighting.
However, Sidhu seems as unwilling to work with Channi as he was with Amarinder Singh.
His threat to quit as Punjab Congress chief was apparently triggered by the Chief Minister not consulting him over key appointments, including those for the chief of the state’s police.