The Congress on Sunday appointed former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, amid the infighting within the state unit of the party.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi also named four working presidents – Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra – for the Punjab unit of the party.
“The party appreciates the contributions of outgoing PCC [Pradesh Congress Committee] President, Shri Sunil Jakhar,” the All India Congress Committee in a statement. It added that Nagra will no longer be the party chief of Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura.
The decision came days after the Punjab unit of the party was thrown into a crisis following a rift between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Sidhu, who has reportedly been demanding a more prominent role in the Congress.
The cricketer-turned-politician had resigned from the Punjab Cabinet after he was divested of the local bodies portfolio in 2019. Singh and Sidhu have publicly criticised each other for months. Other party leaders have also revolted against the chief minister.
On July 12, party leader Harish Rawat, the leader in charge of Congress’ Punjab affairs, had said that Singh will remain the chief minister but Jakhar would be replaced as the party chief of the state unit. He also said that a Valmiki leader would be inducted into the state Cabinet.
Soon after his appointment, Sidhu reminisced about his father’s stint as a Congress worker. In an apparent reference to Singh’s lineage, Sidhu tweeted that his father “left a royal household” and joined the freedom struggle. Singh’s father was a ruler of the former princely state of Patiala, according to NDTV.
Sidhu also thanked the Gandhi family, adding that he would work to “strengthen the invincible fort of Congress”.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor congratulated Sidhu on the appointment. “An important state party organisation must move forward under a dynamic leader, in the service of inclusive and progressive values,” he said in a tweet.
Party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said that the move will “infuse new energy” among the party workers.
Former Union minister and Congress leader Ashwani Kumar said that Sidhu will be an asset to Congress and in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, reported ANI. Both Sidhu and Singh will lead the party to victory, he added.
Ahead of Sidhu’s elevation, at least 10 Congress MLAs had come out in support of Singh, urging the high command “not to let him down”, reported The Hindu.
“There was no doubt that the appointment of PCC chief was the prerogative of the party high command but at the same time washing dirty linen in public has only decreased the party graph during the last couple of months,” MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira said in a joint statement issued by the legislators.
They said that the chief minister stood as a “tall leader amongst the Sikhs” because of his principled stand during testing times. “Since merely six months were left for the elections, pulling the party into the different directions will only harm its prospects in the 2022 polls,” the statement said.
The MLAs also reiterated Amarinder Singh’s demand seeking a public apology from Sidhu for his tweets against him. They said it would allow the party and government to function in tandem.
“We hope the party high command would take cognisance of the suggestions and will definitely keep in mind the status, contribution and background of Captain Amarinder Singh in mind while making vital decisions for the party,” they said.
On July 6, Singh had met Sonia Gandhi amid the infighting. After the meeting, he had said that Gandhi’s decision will be acceptable. The chief minister, however, did not speak about Sidhu.
In June, Sidhu had met Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Delhi amid his feud with the Punjab chief minister. The Congress had formed a three-member committee to resolve the crisis in Punjab.
Sidhu has been criticising the chief minister about the 2015 sacrilege case – when Sikh religious text Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated at Bargari in Faridkot – and the alleged delay by Singh’s government to bring justice. He has also spoken against the liquor, sand and transport mafias operating in Punjab.
The cricketer-turned-politician had also dismissed allegations that he was damaging the image of the Congress in one of the few states where it is in power. “Is it damaging if you address issues like sacrilege?” he asked. “Every MLA is raising this issue. All 78 MLAs are with me.”
Sidhu had also hit out at his own party for the electricity crisis in the state. The Punjab government has been facing criticism for power shortages in the state.