New Delhi: The Congress will head into the 2022 assembly election in Punjab with Capt Amarinder Sigh as the chief ministerial face again although the party is exploring the option of revamping the state unit, multiple leaders privy to the deliberations of an All India Congress Committee (AICC) panel have told ThePrint.
The Punjab chief minister held a three-hour-long meeting with a three-member AICC panel in New Delhi Friday.
The developments came in the backdrop of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s rebellion against the CM. Sidhu, a former minister in Amarinder’s government, has been critical of the CM and wants a larger role for himself in Punjab.
The three-member committee comprising Rajya Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge, Punjab state in-charge Harish Rawat and J.P. Aggarwal met legislators and other leaders from Punjab before meeting Amarinder Friday.
“It is true that there is no alternative to Captain and most MLAs don’t want to replace him. But at the same time, they have complained about his accessibility,” a member of the AICC panel told ThePrint. “A number of MLAs said they were unable to get an audience with him to get their local level works done. At the end of the day an MLA is accountable to the people.”
Although Sidhu, a known Amarinder detractor, got an audience with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi some time back, it would be foolhardy on the part of the party high command to encourage dissidence against the chief minister, who remains the only hope of the Congress if it wants to retain power in next year’s elections, say party functionaries. They pointed out how three Aam Aadmi Party MLAs joined the Congress Thursday, lending credence to the general perception about Amarinder’s capability to lead the Congress to another victory.
“The fact he was there in the meeting for three hours also shows that Singh is ready to walk an extra mile to have reconciliation with his detractors ahead of the elections,” said a senior Congress leader.
Amarinder provided a detailed explanation to all questions put in front of the committee constituted to resolve the dispute of Punjab Congress, ThePrint has learnt. Emerging from the three-hour long meeting, he said the meeting was chiefly on election preparation and that he would not discuss the issues with the media.
Former MP J.P. Agarwal, a member of the high-level committee, said a report would be submitted to the party president in a day or two. He said that the points of all stakeholders will be included in the report. Following this, the Congress high command will take a final decision.
“A few Punjab Congress MLAs demanded a change, but most of them were more in favour of a change in terms of his overall style of functioning, and not him,” said a leader privy to the deliberations, adding that there were more complaints against state Congress president Sunil Jakhar.
“In such a situation, there is a possibility of a new state president being appointed,” said an AICC functionary. “The high command has to decide if a deputy chief minister is also needed to send a signal to different sections of the society, especially Dalits. But there is no question of replacing the Captain.”
‘CM understands people’s sentiments better’
One of the major issues that the MLAs wanted resolved was the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
A section of the leaders are of the view that if concrete action is not taken in the matter, the party will face the consequences in the elections. “The CM heads the department of home affairs. His proximity to Sukhbir Singh Badal (who has been accused in the case) is cited as the main reason for Singh not initiating any action,” said a Congress leader.
After assuming office in 2017, Amarinder Singh had launched an investigation into the incident and it was expected by Congress members that the Badals would be indicted in the investigation. However, on 9 April, the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the Punjab Police investigation into the firing, passing severe strictures against Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, the head of the investigating team. The court, meanwhile, gave a clean chit to the Badals in the incident.
On this issue, AICC in-charge of Punjab, Harish Rawat, told reporters that while the party understands the sentiments of the people, “the chief minister understands it better”.
‘Sidhu does not have the team right now’
Congress leaders also said that Amarinder made a decisive case for himself.
“The Captain, who appeared before the committee, also brought some documents with him in which it was mentioned how he got the work done on the recommendation of the Congress leaders,” a senior Congress leader said. “He tried to convince the committee that he was fulfilling the responsibility given to him by the party.
“As far as the case of Sidhu is concerned, he wants to be the new captain of Punjab Congress but he does not have a team right now. He has a long way to go,” the Congress leader added. “He still needs to earn the goodwill of the MLAs. They don’t repose their faith in him as of now. But he has his positives as he connects with people and is a good orator.”
Another leader said, “The priority of the party is to win elections and Amarinder definitely has an upper hand. Though he has a lot of challenges too and he needs to address them, the bigger issue is to ensure a confident win for the party.
“Whether it is about taking action against the sand-mafia, cable mafia and controlling the drug menace, the government has not performed the way it should have. The committee met the MLAs as well as other stakeholders and took note of their grievances,” the leader added.
“Today, Amarinder presented his side of the story and very patiently he explained each and everything. Many feel in the last six months before elections more and more development work should be carried out and the CM has to be more accessible.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)