Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi today, ahead of an anticipated cabinet reshuffle in the state. The visit also comes amid indications his long-running feud with newly-installed Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu is far from over.
Weeks after cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu was appointed as leader of the party’s state unit – with Amarinder Singh’s grudging consent to the elevation – and an uneasy calm settled over their feud, tweets by Mr Sidhu threatened to disturb the party’s hard-won truce.
On Monday Mr Sidhu once again cornered his government over inaction against Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia and others, all of whom were allegedly involved in a 2018 drug trafficking case.
“Punishing the culprits behind the drug trade is the Congress’s priority under the 18-Point Agenda. What is the action taken on Majithia? If further delayed, we will bring a resolution in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for making the reports public,” he said in a series of six tweets.
Punishing culprits behind Drug trade is Congress’s priority under 18-Point Agenda. What is the action taken on Majithia? While Govt seeks extradition of NRIs linked to the same case. If further delayed will bring resolution in Punjab Vidhan Sabha for making the Reports Public 6/6
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) August 9, 2021
Mr Sidhu then lashed out at his party government’s apparent inability to tackle the drug problem; he did so, however, without naming the Chief Minister.
Constant and public barbs and critical comments by Navjot Sidhu aimed at Amarinder Singh have been one of the major flashpoints in a political row that has threatened (and continues to threaten) to wreck the Congress’ attempt to win re-election in Punjab next year.
Last month, after extended negotiations between Camp Sidhu, Camp Amarinder Singh and a three-man peace-making team nominated by Mrs Gandhi, a compromise was reached.
This included Mr Sidhu’s elevation to Punjab Congress chief, increased representation to Dalits and promises from the Chief Minister to address rebel MLAs concerns; these ranged from the state’s power crisis to a 2015 case about the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib.
The Chief Minister, however, demanded a greater say in the party’s state affairs ahead of the election, and a public apology from Mr Sidhu – which the former cricketer has yet to make.
Senior Congress leader and former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who was part of that three-man team, told NDTV that while there were still some issues to be worked out, a compromise marked a “desire for peace” within the party ahead of next year’s election.
The feud dates back to the 2017 election, when the former cricketer hoped to be made Deputy Chief Minister but was reportedly denied by Mr Singh.
Navjot Sidhu, the Congress’s star campaigner in that election, instead became a minister in the Amarinder Singh government but quit two years later after his ministry was downgraded.
After prolonged silence and detachment from party affairs, he began re-targeting Amarinder Singh in recent months, becoming a hard-to-ignore problem in the run-up to the Punjab election.